Written By: Ninad Varshney & Soham Damle
In March 2020, many started to realize the reality of the situation: the COVID-19 virus would have a heavy presence in the East but would soon claw its way to the West. According to charts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), within a mere three weeks, the U.S. had seen this novel virus create upwards of around 5,000 cases. One of the first states to take action in response to this surge of cases was New Jersey. By March 21st, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy had declared a state of emergency and issued a strict stay-at-home order.
While fear of the virus drove many to stay home, others could not bear to see their fellow peers go down. One such individual was Ganesh Ramakrishnan. Ganeshji, your average New Jersey resident, works for a mid-size solution firm and has two kids. He and his family volunteer for two organizations called Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) and Sewa International.
Both of these non-profit organizations have done tremendous work for the community before; however, they continue to help society even as this pandemic rages. We were fortunate enough to interview Ganeshji and talk about his efforts regarding the distribution of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). In the interview, we were able to talk about how HSS and Sewa International were able to form a team called the “First Responders.” With strict social distancing guidelines in mind, this team would take in requests for various tasks like Senior Citizens’ assistance, medical aid, and weekly grocery needs.
However, according to Ganeshji, the first critical need this team saw to help the community was with the distribution of masks. Since the pandemic had reached all corners of the world and created a global deficit of masks, many hospitals, and other public health organizations had a shortage of this essential safety equipment. Recognizing the urgency and importance of the problem at hand, HSS and Sewa International launched an initiative that would distribute masks to places of demand.
In order to carry out this immense task, Ganeshji and many other volunteers formed different teams to better divide the workload of this initiative. This work was headed by a “sourcing team, ” which mapped out PPE’s demand throughout the Tri-State area. Using this plan, the “sourcing team” was able to inform the “mask-making team” of how many masks needed to be produced. They then created a short informational video regarding the guidelines that must be followed in order to create safe, effective, and regulation-friendly masks.
In accordance with the word of the “sourcing team,” the “mask-making team” began their laborious yet assiduous work of making homemade masks. This team had all but two prerequisites, the possession of a sewing machine, and the viewing of the aforementioned video. As a result, benevolent and charitable volunteers, including plenty of senior citizens, throughout the entire state of New Jersey assembled — from the comfort of their home — in massive numbers to execute this mask-making mission. Though the masks were not made by experts, this team strived to make the masks meet the same quality and design as those recommended by the federal government, such as the professional-grade K-95 and N-95 masks. According to the CDC, “These [The K-95 and N-95] specialized masks filter out at least 95% of tiny (0.3 microns) particles.” To meet such high standards, the masks included a small pocket in which air-filters were to be inserted to ensure maximum protection from the virus.
After the gears of this “quarantined factory” started churning, the masks were distributed to hospitals and police stations by a “delivery team.” This team, which Ganeshji was fortunate to be a part of, had a simple yet crucial role in this mission: pick up the homemade masks that were being produced and deliver them to the places in need. This team visited over 17 hospitals in New Jersey and over 50 other hospitals in the entire Tri-State area.
In New Jersey itself, this collective effort, between HSS and Sewa International, was able to create around 10,000 handmade masks, which were successfully delivered to those working on the front lines and in hospitals. Once the pandemic started to settle in, these two organizations were able to buy 40,000 masks and 90,000 gloves, which were all donated to various hospitals in the Tri-State area. However, this entire initiative would have gone to waste without the help of the brave volunteers, such as Ganeshji, who were willing to expose themselves to the potential threats of this deadly virus.
In Ganeshji’s words, he describes this experience as, “… a very humbling and collective experience. Seeing the front lines working so hard is amazing.” He is happy to help and hopes others do more as well. To see more of these tremendous efforts, please feel free to visit sewa4community.org.
Cases in the U.S. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html