Michael Gerard Puharic will never know how many lives he has touched. As his dad says, “the impact from Michael’s 83 hours on earth is greater than most people have in 83 years.” Michael will never know because a grave health problem took his life just days after he was born, but his parents, Adam and Dana Puharic turned their own tragedy into a powerful charity that 22 years later has helped ease the heartache, fear, and pain for thousands of New Jersey residents.
The Michael Gerard Puharic Memorial Fund, known as Michael’s Feat, started as a way to deal with grief and at the same time help families who faced similar struggles and loss. “In that time of darkness and helplessness surrounding Michael’s funeral, we announced we’d collect funds to bring car seats and clothing to parents who found themselves in hospitals with their children under unexpected circumstances. The charity started that simply,” Dana says. She explains that after Michael was born the doctors knew he would not last and allowed her and her husband to take him home for his final days. As he was premature, they had nothing prepared to accommodate a baby so friends, family, and staff at the hospital rallied to get them supplies. Dana never forgot how touched she was by this small gesture and was determined to pass it on. “It would have been easy to succumb to fears and curl up into a ball but I saw the love and kindness of those coming to our aid, and it helped me to keep going,” she says.
The $10,000 they collected at the funeral inspired Dana and Adam to keep working to have something wonderful in their son’s name. They organized and held a fundraiser behind their church that attracted a few hundred people that first year. Over the next years they added more church events, then wine tastings, and then an annual gala. Now the charity holds multiple events each year to raise funds to help families across a wide spectrum of needs.
Direct assistance is provided through gift cards, gas cards, assistance with transportation and medical equipment, and food service through a partnership with Eat Clean Bro which makes boxed meals and delivers them to hospitals. Indirectly, funds from Michael’s Feat have gone towards the creation of family rooms and overnight rooms at area hospitals, designed to give stressed and grieving families a comfortable place to spend time with their child as well as with family members. “The rooms are designed to look like someone’s bedroom, warm and comfortable, to make them feel safe,” Dana says. Funds from Michael’s Feat have also been used for hospital equipment—two head cooling units each costing more than $30,000 and two $40,000 Giraffe Omni-beds.
For Dana, her most important work is her direct contact with families. She said that when someone calls Michael’s Feat they are calling her directly and she spends time learning about each family. “In the NICU it doesn’t matter your walk of life, you feel hopeless. Michael’s Feat fills the gaps by giving parents a sense that they are not alone and that we’re going to take care of their creature comforts. We will walk the journey together and the sun will rise again,” Adam says. “We’re about life and families and people making their own choices.”
That interaction is invaluable and many of the charity’s volunteers are families who once received help. Whether they help with events or become confidants to struggling families, the volunteers help make the charity what it is today. From dressing the babies for Halloween to bringing in Santa at Christmas to offering flowers on Mother’s Day, the volunteers at Michael’s Feat work hard to bring joy and a sense of normalcy to the families who otherwise may feel the world is passing them by. Although Adam is quick to share all that Dana has accomplished as the leader of the organization. “Dana has been helping New Jersey families for 22 years and she’s a treasure to this state and this region. She does this work day in and day out while raising a family and helping to run a business. She’s really a special person,” he says.
If you are interested in supporting Michael’s Feat you can donate directly on their website, michaelsfeat.org, sponsor events, or participate in their upcoming Mistletoe Rock Call-A-Thon.