In response to frontline health workers needing protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been grassroots efforts to collect medical supplies as well local businesses buying or manufacturing these supplies.
On April 8, StoreYourBoard distributed 5,000 masks among Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, the University of Virginia Medical Center, Pediatric Associates of Charlottesville and Hospice of the Piedmont.
Heidi Tombs, associate director of people operations for StoreYourBoard, said representatives from the Hospice of the Piedmont and Pediatric Associates told her that because so much of the personal protective equipment was going to the hospitals for nurses and doctors who are treating COVID-19 patients, they couldn’t find adequate items for their staffs. Tombs said that motivated StoreYourBoard to distribute supplies to those organizations serving children and elderlies.
“We saw a great need in our community,” Tombs said. “… Somebody who manages our supply chain came to us and said, ‘Hey they switched gears and [started] manufacturing masks to meet the need of protective equipment.’ And we jumped on that right away.”
Tombs said the primary interest of StoreYourBoard ― an ecommerce retailer ― has been helping serve people in the community. She encourages others to get creative in any way they can to help, too.
“We bought the maximum number that we were allowed to buy,” Tombs said. “We have asked this company to follow up with us if additional inventory becomes available. And we’ll be monitoring the need in the community.”
Josh Gordon, founder and CEO of Spire Collective, said everyone has a role to play during the COVID-19 pandemic, calling for other organizations to think creatively to assist the community.
“We at StoreYourBoard realized that we could utilize our sourcing and importing expertise to bring in masks to help facilities in our community,” he said in a news release. “ We were more than willing to seize that opportunity.”
Having a shortage in medical supplies poses a threat to frontline health workers, especially if COVID-19 cases peak this month as experts predict. Pediatrician Dr. Paige Perriello ― who was among several health providers who drafted a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam last month to raise awareness about the need for medical supplies ― said there’s still a shortage of supplies. Her purpose in writing the letter, she said, was to call on organizations that had existing supplies but closed due to the outbreak to donate them to health providers.
Perriello said the letter turned into a grassroot local effort recognizing the severity of the need for PPE.
A part of that is a project named Equip Cville, which can be accessed on the Support Cville website. WillowTree employee Margo Bulka, in partnership with Jordy Yager, the digital humanities fellow at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, launched Support Cville to connect people with resources and guide them on how to donate their services, as well.
Perriello said there has not been any less urgency from her fellow healthcare providers since she wrote the letter, stressing that doctors, nurses and frontline health providers are feeling anxious about not having enough equipment or running out when needed the most.
“The purpose of our Equip Cville project has been to focus on getting the supplies to frontline providers that would not be covered by the hospital system,” she said, adding that the items that have been collected through Equip Cville have been distributed to independent physician offices, Region Ten, homeless shelters, jails and other organizations.
Equip Cville collects supplies from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily at Champion Brewery on Sixth Street Southeast. Items that are being accepted include N95 respirator masks, surgical/procedural masks, face shields, plastic transparency sheets, goggles, gowns, hand sanitizer and Lysol.
Without medical supplies, more people will get infected by the virus, leading to a risk of having a shortage of healthcare providers, Perriello said while recommending that people continue to stay at home and practice social distancing.
“It’s important that we reduce frontline workers’ risks,” she said. “That’s why we recognized this as an emergency from the very beginning of the outbreak, knowing that this moment in April is coming when we need the maximum supply to everybody.”
SupportCville’s Bulka has been monitoring the volume of traffic on the website of people showing interest in providing support and those who want to get support.
“When we started tracking site visitor behavior in mid-March, we observed 50% more interest in providing support. Today, we’re seeing 10% more interest in getting support. This could be due to increased awareness in vulnerable communities or reflective of the pandemic’s impact on the broader community.”
Among the companies selling or manufacturing masks for the general public include My Dance Shoppe of Charlottesville (formerly The Hip Joint), The Happy Cook, Rhoback and Custom Ink. Here’s how to contact them.
My Dance Shoppe of Charlottesville
Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.