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Helping the Community: WPI Donates Medical Supplies, Sews Face Masks

April 9, 2020
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Anyone familiar with the WPI community knows the generous spirit of the people who work and learn on the Hill, and it is no more evident than now as people here and across the globe battle the coronavirus. From lending out sewing machines to  searching their lab and office inventories for extra medical supplies to donate, WPI is rallying to help keep Worcester’s residents and medical community safe.

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Professors Tanja Dominko and Balaji Panchapakesan alt
Professors Tanja Dominko and Balaji Panchapkesan putting masks into a UV cabinet in his lab.

“We are all a part of the broader human community and reaching out is as essential as our heartbeats,” said Professor Tanja Dominko (Biology and Biotechnology), who with Professor Kristin Boudreau (Humanities and Arts) and Executive Director Sia Najafi (Information Technology), are spearheading efforts to get medical supplies to those who need them.

“There will be plenty of time to be tired after we emerge on the other side of this nightmare," she said. "We will continue printing, sewing, collecting, distributing, and, through it all, build new friendships, share encouragement and optimism, and lift each other up when times get especially difficult. None of us expects anything less from our WPI family.”

WPI has been reaching out on two fronts: collecting and donating supplies to the medical community, and  creating handmade masks via the 142-member Worcester Stitchers for Health, a group that began with WPI employees but quickly grew to include their families, community members, friends, and even the mother of a WPI student. As of April 6, the group had donated 373 masks, including 150 to Community Health Link and 115 to Worcester's homeless shelters.

“We problem solve at WPI,” Boudreau said. “I feel so honored to see people contributing and being able to help those who are putting their lives and their family’s lives on the line.” One of the added benefits WPI brings to the mask-making project is the equipment available on campus that can sterilize the hand-sewn face masks before they are distributed. Dominko is heading this effort with Professor Balaji Panchapakesan (Mechanical Engineering) and Senior Operations Manager Chris Bellerive, Biomanufacturing Education & Training Center.

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A thank you note left on Boudreau’s front porch. alt
A thank you note left on Boudreau’s front porch.

WPI’s coronavirus-related community-oriented efforts didn’t start with the mask-making project. Recently, Dominko and Professor Glenn Gaudette (Biomedical Engineering) oversaw a mass donation of supplies to UMass Memorial Medical Center from WPI faculty and staff, including surgical masks with face shields, N95 masks, sleeve protectors, safety glasses, and nitrile gloves. That shipment came on the heels of another mass donation last month from WPI to area medical facilities via the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).  

Students are also helping with mask-related volunteering, including Ryan Luu ’23 with the Southeast Asian Coalition Youth Effect Community COVID-19 Sewing Project. Computer science major Luu was helping prepare materials for community sewing kits. “The reason I had taken part in this project is to show the importance of community,” he said. “I believe together we can support this larger fight.”

Boudreau echoed that sentiment, saying that combining the efforts of many into one united front was what made the Worcester Stitchers for Health a success.

Recently, Boudreau was surprised to receive a token of gratitude in the form of a handwritten note left on her front porch. “Thank you hardly seems sufficient,” it read. “You are all angels. Thank you, WPI.”

 It ended with a hand-drawn, purple heart.

- By Lauren Borsa-Curran