They Gave to The Community; Now They Need Our Help

The demise of a small neighborhood pharmacy that knew all its customers by name may seem like a small footnote to the pandemic-spawned tragedy sweeping our country. But to its six long-time employees – dismissed on short notice with no severance – it was like being hit by a hurricane on top of an earthquake.

Cathedral Pharmacy, which opened its doors in 1924 in the then just urbanizing neighborhoods of Woodley and Cleveland Park in Washington, DC, always served its clientele with extraordinarily attentive care. Until, that is, 6 p.m., on Thursday, Oct. 29, when its new absentee owners shut it down for good.

Over the 30 years I’ve known them, the pharmacy’s staff has  treated customers like family, greeting them with smiles, asking after their children, making sure everybody’s prescriptions got refilled on time and, if need be, delivered to their doors free of charge. A little bit about them:

Shewa Zewge: The staff doyen who for 30 years made sure the trains ran on time – ordering supplies, calling vendors, writing daily reports, keeping the books. She lives alone, with a mortgage on a small home she can no longer afford to pay, medical bills piling up and some years to go before she qualifies for Social Security. “This place was my life,” she said. “When the door closed, it closed on my home, my family… I must work, but I don’t know where to apply or what to do… Everything is so dark now.”

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Angela Juarez: A 29-year pharmacy veteran who from behind the counter always greeted customers with a smile as wide as the storefront’s door. Mother of four children, two of whom live at home. “My youngest is 16 while the other is out of high school and still looking for a job,” she said. “I must find one by January or I don’t know what we’ll do. This is crunch time for us.”

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Christopher Zervas: 20 when he was hired as a pharmacy technician 24 years ago. He lives at home, helping to care for his 72-year-old mother and 90-year-old grandmother, who has dementia. He cooks her supper, helps her to the bathroom and puts her to bed at night. For him the pharmacy was an extended family—a source of both emotional and financial support. But now that it’s over, his long-deferred dream is to get into computers and he hopes to break into the field of software testing.

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Kerchan Stoney: 11 years managing a pill packaging system used by hospitals and nursing homes to ensure patients— especially seniors – take their prescribed medicines on time. She’s her family’s sole breadwinner, caring for her mother and paying for her daughter’s college education. “She keeps saying she’ll quit school and get a job to help me out and I keep telling her not to, that we’ll be OK and to stay in school,” Kerchan said. “I will have to sell my car and if I can do that, we should make it into January. After that, I just don’t know.” 

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Claudio Sayan & Ashenafi Desta Gonemo: Cathedral’s two heroes on wheels. Ashenafi’s the newbie, having joined the pharmacy two years ago; Claudio’s the veteran--27 years on the job. “Mine wasn’t a big job,” Ashenafi said. “I just made sure people got the medicines they needed when they couldn’t get them themselves. But now I’m very worried. Unless I find a job soon, I won’t be able to pay my bills.” Claudio is something of a hero in the pharmacy’s lore. During a one-for-the-record-book blizzard in 2007, Claudio was dispatched to deliver a critical prescription to an elderly woman snowbound in Maryland miles away. When his car quickly stalled in the unplowed streets, he set off on foot, struggling through deep drifts to the Metro for a train to Maryland, where he trudged the last mile in howling winds and blinding snow to reach the woman’s door.

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Ordinary folks who always went out of their way to help others. Isn’t that what really makes America great? If you agree, please help them in their hour of need. 

--Michael Ross

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Michael Ross 
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Washington, DC
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