Isa Amaro Varas ’23 awarded distinguished Watson Fellowship
As COVID-19 began spreading in the United States and Connecticut College transitioned to distance learning, faculty and staff from across campus took stock of supplies and donated thousands of pairs of gloves, hundreds of masks, $1,000 worth of food and more to local organizations on the forefront of the pandemic.
Anne Lizarralde, a senior research scholar in the Botany Department, learned from a neighbor that New London’s Lawrence + Memorial Hospital was in need of personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves and masks.
“I knew we had some in storage that were supposed to be used for labs and research this semester,” Lizarralde said.
Lizarralde reached out to other science departments on campus, including biology, chemistry and psychology, “and they were happy to help,” she says.
In total, the science departments donated several hundred masks and more than 5,000 gloves to the hospital.
“We are very grateful for the outpouring of support we have received from the southeastern Connecticut community in response to the coronavirus,” said Bill Stanley, vice president for development and community relations at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.
“Given its long tradition of community service in many forms over many years, it came as no surprise that our friends at Connecticut College—students, faculty and staff—would step up with very useful donations of personal protective equipment for our staff here at L+M. On behalf of the courageous and dedicated healthcare professionals who work here, as well as the patients they care for, I want to thank Connecticut College for coming through with this vitally important equipment at a time of great need. This means a great deal to us.”
Other organizations were in need of PPE too, including the Waterford Fire Department and Waterford Ambulance Service, which received thousands of pairs of nitrile gloves from the Chemistry Department, and New London’s Homeless Hospitality Center, which worked with the City of New London to open a vacant former nursing home as an isolation center for people experiencing homelessness and exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
“From the very start of this pandemic we’ve been concerned about people experiencing homelessness,” Cathy Zall, executive director of the Homeless Hospitality Center, told The Day newspaper. “Obviously, a crowded site like ours is a dangerous breeding ground for the spread of the virus. We need to be prepared.”
The new facility needed furniture and supplies, so Conn donated 12 furniture sets, including bed frames, mattresses, dressers and chairs, as well as 30 boxes of non-latex gloves.
Steven Langlois, director of environmental health and safety at the College, said Conn also donated 100 surgical masks to Ledge Light Health District for use by volunteers supporting local people experiencing homelessness, as well as 105 disposable N-95 respirators and 100 surgical masks to the New London Fire Department.
“We started planning for a pandemic as far back as the SARS scare in 2003, and purchased disposable N-95 respirators, masks and other items such as gloves, biohazard bags, sanitizer etc., during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009,” said Langlois, who explained that the College keeps the supplies on hand for at-risk staff who might have to care for infected students. Since most students are now off-campus and learning from home, excess supplies could be donated.
“We are happy to share what we can with the Health Department and the Fire Department. They are on the front lines of this outbreak, and protecting them helps to protect us,” Langlois said.
In addition to PPE, the College also had food supplies that were no longer needed for the semester. The College donated approximately $1,000 worth of fresh produce, including spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers and salad mixes, as well as various dairy items, assorted breads, soy milk, cider, pickles, deli meat and cheeses to the New London Community Meal Center, the New London Area Food Pantry and the Salvation Army.
“It just made sense that we would help other people at this time,” said Director of Dining Services Ingrid Bushwack.
Staff, faculty and students in the College’s Holleran Center for Community Action are also working with community partners to help meet other unique needs in the great New London area. The Center’s popular ENRICH mentorship program, through which Conn students mentor and tutor students from New London’s Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, is moving to a virtual model that will feature virtual tutoring, a “snail mail” pen-pal program and a series of videos made by Conn students to help New London Public School students with everything from technology questions to simple enrichment activities that can be completed at home.
Other Holleran Center staff are helping to plan a virtual version of the annual Walk to End Homelessness, working with the New London Area Food Pantry, and assisting the Salvation Army.
“I am very grateful for the help Connecticut College is giving us with the delivery of groceries for seniors and homebound individuals,” said Jose Borrero, commanding officer at the Salvation Army’s New London Corps. “They’re not just delivering food, but also checking on people's wellbeing. They are, in my view, ‘unsung heroes.’”
Clayton Potter, the civic engagement and communications coordinator for the Holleran Center, said he is honored to take part in this important work.
“Many people are facing additional challenges, so ensuring families and children are eating while schools are closed and incomes are insecure is absolutely essential work that we’re proud to do.”