ST. LOUIS - Local businessman Tony Pietoso spent his childhood in an orphanage. Though he still wasn’t quite prepared for what he saw when he and a group of seven friends delivered medical and hygiene supplies to a Cuban orphanage.
“It was heartbreaking to see all these children in need,” says Pietoso, owner of the two local Napoli restaurants. “But it was also tremendously uplifting. Everyone we met was so gracious and appreciative of our visit.”
The eight St. Louis businessmen visited La Edad de Oro, a Catholic-run orphanage for children with physical disabilities in Havana, Cuba, for four days in late February. Although U.S. citizens are largely restricted from traveling to Cuba or doing business there, exemptions are made for some humanitarian aid.
Pietoso’s fellow travelers included Donn Sorensen, regional president for Mercy's east Missouri region; Steve Warlick, president and CEO of Bates and Associates Architects; Pat Dubbert, CEO of Midwest Block and Brick; Tony Sansone, Jr., of Sangita; Scott Rozier, President/CEO of ROSCH Companies.; Robert Lesslie, Jr., CEO of Lesslie Consulting; and Kent Gaines of Flotron & McIntosh, LLC.
“All of us in this group make donations locally from our personal and corporate resources,” Sorensen says. “This was an opportunity for us to give internationally and to help children in desperate need of support.”
The group made a short charter flight from Miami to Cuba on Feb. 20, carrying suitcases loaded with medicine and other supplies for the children. They also made repairs and did other work around the orphanage before returning home Feb. 24.
Sansone says the trip more than fulfilled his expectations.
“It’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to help other people,” Sansone says. “But in truth, I believe our group received much more than we gave.”
Mercy is the sixth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 32 hospitals, 300 outpatient facilities, 38,000 co-workers and 1,900 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. In Mercy’s east Missouri region, Mercy’s services include a 979-bed hospital in St. Louis, 187-bed hospital in Washington, 251-bed hospital in Festus and Mercy Clinic, a 570-member multispecialty physician organization.