Volunteers Step Up To Face The Challenges Of The Pandemic
By Virginia MacDonald
Efforts in Birmingham to thwart the spread of COVID-19 stretch from volunteer organizations that have stitched more than 18,500 cloth face masks to tech companies and businesses using prototyping, fabrication and 3D printers to create face shields and ventilator adaptors, as well as prototypes for portable intensive care units.
As Jack’s restaurants CEO Todd Bartmess said, “In the South, we take care of each other.”
The face mask creations are the brainchild of BhamFaceMasks.com, a one-stop website where people can volunteer, get fabric and create or deliver face masks. The site’s volunteers had made more than 18,500 masks by April 3.
The masks are intended to be used in low-risk scenarios to save N95 and other high-level personal protective equipment (PPEs) to combat COVID-19.
Bham Face Masks was organized March 20 as a Facebook group, and it has over 6,000 members.
Jo-Ann Fabrics has donated cloth to the group, and those who can’t sew have volunteered to cut the material.
The popularity of the masks mushroomed recently when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that everyone wear face masks when they are out and about.
But before the recommendation, Birmingham-based wedding designer Heidi Elnora had teamed up with Red Land Cotton, an Alabama company, to get more masks to those in need.
With more than 90 volunteers and 60 seamstresses working together, “Our sole focus is on getting as many masks into as many hands as possible,” Elnora said via a Facebook video.
Elnora is donating 100% of her masks and paying her seamstresses to help, but she’s also offering compensation to volunteer seamstresses who are in need of financial help because they lost their jobs.
Bhamsupport.com is a website that is bringing together makers and organizations to supply emergency health equipment. Supporters include Red Mountain Makers, Stream Innovations, Fledging and other companies to make PPEs, such as face shields.
Red Mountian Makers is a nonprofit that is organizing makers across Birmingham to create face shields and N95 face masks.
Shirley Hicks, one of the founders of Red Mountain Makers, said the nonprofit is working in coordination with Satterfield Technologies. The local tech company is using its 3D printing to create masks with N95 filters inserted into them.
Birmingham biotech company CerFlux is using its manufacturing, fabrication and prototyping capacities to create PPEs.
“Our primary focus is on producing personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes face shields and respirators/masks. We are also preparing to assist in other areas such as ventilator adaptors,” said Dr. Karim Budhwani, CEO of CerFlux and visiting scientist at UAB’s School of Medicine.
To the South, BLOX, a Bessemer-based company, has designed a 16-bed Mobile Isolation Care Unit (MICU) ward. A completed MICU can be deployed to an area of need and set up much faster than in traditional construction.
A study by Harvard Global Health Institute found the United States has a deficit of 50,000 intensive care unit beds. BLOX is working on a prototype to bring medical space — and as many as 10,000 new beds — to the country.
Physicians Moms, a grassroots group organized by Dr. Ellen Eaton of Homewood, has been holding drives at the Homewood Library to get donations of surgical and N95 masks, hospital gowns, shoe covers, face shields, bouffant caps/head covers and reusable goggles.
Donated items are distributed locally to healthcare professionals combating coronavirus.
A drop-off at the Christian Service Mission, 3600 Third Ave. South in Birmingham, collects unopened PPEs through a no-contact system. To donate, drive up to the dock and place equipment in a labeled collection box on the dock lift. Information for donation receipts is in the box.
The Women’s Fund has started emergency relief for at-risk child care centers in the Birmingham area that serve essential workers in the pandemic.
The fund provides direct relief and aids in recovery of the child care industry, supports women-owned businesses, and connects child care centers to critical technical assistance through partnerships with Childcare Resources, the Jefferson County Health Department, Alabama Giving, and the Alabama Department of Human Resources.
Jack’s Family Restaurants is raising money to support local organizations and families in crisis as a result of the pandemic.
Jack’s has partnered with Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper, Mayfield Dairy Farms, the University of Alabama, and Lamar and THINC Advertising companies.
“In the South, we take care of each other and appreciate that our partners and vendors share this vision and are committed to helping those who are hardest hit by COVID-19,” said Jack’s CEO Todd Bartmess.
Tropical Smoothies Cafes, with many locations in Alabama, has pledged to donate 100,000 smoothies nationwide to health care workers and first responders.
Each cafe has been challenged to donate at least 100 smoothies. Since March 27, about 20,000 smoothies have been delivered across 20 states.
Milo’s Tea, based in Birmingham, is giving 2,000 gallons of tea and lemonade to health care professionals and first responders treating COVID-19 patients.
BHMcares, founded by Dr. Brandon White, is supporting local restaurants while trying to relieve the stress of the pandemic on health care workers. Hospitals served include St. Vincent’s East, UAB Medical West, St. Vincent’s downtown, UAB Hospital, Brookwood Baptist, Princeton Baptist, Grandview Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Alabama.
Restaurants include Unos Tacos, Slice, Melt, Fancy’s on 5th, Sol y Luna, Bamboo on 2nd, Eugene’s, Tostada’s Homewood, Vintage Comfort Food Truck, The Standard and Billy’s Sports Grill.,
The Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association and Redmont Distilling Co. are providing financial assistance to hospitality workers who have been hit hardest financially. Sports icon Charles Barkley, a majority owner of Redmont, is also matching a portion of the donations.
Birmingham’s Dread River Distilling Co. is recycling alcohol that is typically discarded, and using it to make sanitizing spray for local businesses that are low on cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, which is given away. The distillery’s leftover grain is converted into dog treats and also given away.
Brookwood Baptist Health System is also involved in the relief effort through its five hospitals in central Alabama, said Laura Clark of Tenet Health, based locally at Brookwood Baptist Hospital. Other hospitals in the group are Citizens, Princeton, Shelby and Walker Baptist medical centers.
Clark said the hospitals has collected donations of food, money, PPE and other items from service organizations, restaurants, corporations, religious groups, volunteer organizations and others.
At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, students at the Department of Health Services Administration are providing meals for health care workers at UAB and other hospital units while supporting local restaurants.
“As this crisis grows in scope and scale, we want to continue to push that mission forward by
boosting the morale of our frontline warriors in need across our communities, all while helping
local restaurants and their employees,” said Christina Fortugno, a critical care nurse and co-
organizer of Frontline Foods Alabama.
The UAB Coronavirus Response Support Fund is supporting COVID-19 research and treatment development; patient and clinical care support; resources, including supplies, equipment and technology; training and education; and other needs associated with relief, response and treatment.
This fund aids the efforts of UAB Medicine’s frontline responders, including doctors, nurses and other health care professionals in their work.
“Your philanthropic investment helps UAB fight this pandemic by addressing critical supply and care needs of our front-line medical heroes, first responders and their patients while training caregivers on best practices and accelerating research and epidemiology for possible new discoveries and treatment,” said Dr. Selwyn Vickers, senior vice president and dean of the UAB School of Medicine.
The Benevolent Fund continues to assist employees in need, including those affected by the pandemic. The fund and Blazer Kitchen programs will continue to be offered with adjustments made for health and safety considerations during COVID-19-limited business operations.
The UAB Student Government Association is providing emergency aid to currently enrolled students impacted by the ongoing outbreak. Support can be used for students’ lost wages, emergency relocation expenses and other COVID-19-related financial hardships. Students must qualify to receive assistance.
The Undergraduate Student Government Association allocated $15,000 for emergency relief for UAB students affected by the pandemic. Contributions were added from the Division of Student Affairs and Graduate Student Government.
The Employee Emergency Assistance Program is accepting applications online, and appointments will be conducted by phone or Zoom meetings, said Lisa Higginbotham, UAB Benevolent Fund manager.
“To help ensure employees and their families have sufficient food, Blazer Kitchen will provide pre-packed bags via drive-through,” Higginbotham said.