Seashells of Hope Created for Nurses

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Random acts of kindness are happening all around us, and one woman who has made it one of her life’s missions to help others is now helping raise up Stony Brook University Hospital filling windows and hearts with inspirational gifts of hope.

A Medford, NY, woman has recently helped to lift those working to save lives during the pandemic.  Hundreds of items from posters, to heart and hand cutouts, and now painted seashells with words of encouragement for ICU nurses have been created and distributed.

Susan Lauber, 48, is no stranger to volunteering. She has been a volunteer for Stepping-Stone Support through Survivors Helper for 14 years and a four-year veteran of Cycle for Survival, both organizations helping those affected by cancer

Her volunteer work all started with countless cutouts of hearts and hands she had left over from another project. Sitting at home wondering what she could do to help people at the hospitals, Susan thought maybe she could decorate them, make some signs and ask her friend who worked at Stony Brook University Hospital how she could make this happen.

“I used to work at Stony Brook Hospital, so when I made all of the signs, I included all of the dietary workers I worked with, Starbucks workers, the truckers, delivery and line workers; There’s a sign for everybody,” she said.

Kristin Steele, a social worker in the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP) with eight years of experience working at Stony Brook Medicine has been a friend of Susan’s for the past 25 years and said what she is doing is “absolutely amazing.”  Steele said Susan reached out to her and asked to help, just as a request was made for such items.  Soon, Susan had delivered approximately 200 hearts, hands and posters safely to Steele who in turn brought them to work with her to be displayed in the glass windows of the Starbucks in the main hospital entrance for all to see.

“The response I received when I submitted the posters and hands was first shock which quickly turned to pure joy.  Susie’s posters and hands were one of the first things to fill up the display wall here at Stony Brook,” Steele said.

Inspiration and the call to action came again with a walk on the beach after Susan and Steele had a conversation about how the ICU nurses’ mental struggles with what was going on and how the little things were lifting them up.  While walking along the beach, Susan began collecting seashells with her daughters and when she got home and cleaned them up, she said they were just so beautiful and she had to do something with them.  The answer came when she was watching T.V. and she kept hearing the saying, ‘We will get through this,’ and she thought to herself, ‘We shall get through this…We shell get through this!’.

With one thought, Susan created a whole process of painting, drying, and writing to decorate shells of all shapes and sizes that are wrapped individually in tissue paper, and placed in hand-decorated bags with inspirational nurse sayings.  To take the project one step further, she created hashtag, #operationweshell and launched an Instagram page for pictures from nurses who received shells that use the hashtag to continue to spread the chain of hope.

“I attached a little nurse’s prayer to the shell, so when they open the shell, they get to read a little prayer to themselves,” she said.

Fifty-five bags of seashells have been delivered to ICU nurses already, and Susan is currently working on 45 more to distribute, but she is looking for more shells.  She is having a hard time finding good ones now that are not broken and has been searching for ways to acquire more.

“I wrote a message on the inside of all of them.  ‘Thank you for keeping us safe.  We appreciate you’,” she said.

While Steele said she has not yet received any response from the seashells as they were delivered directly to the floor where nurses are treating the COVID19 patients, she said it was such a surprise for them to see the beautiful posters and hand cutouts submitted so quickly.  Not long after Susan’s items were displayed, Steele said she overheard staff talking about ‘the amazing posters made’ and had to stop and proudly share with them they were made by her friend.

“She plain and simple helped someone smile during a really rough day. That’s awesome in my book,” Steele said.

If anyone has seashells in good condition who would like to donate to #operationweshell, you can email Susan at and arrangements for delivery while staying safely socially distanced will be made.

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