UW News

April 3, 2020

Huskies rally to support COVID-19 need for masks, child care

UW News

On a typical day, Julianne Dalcanton is an astrophysicist, studying the far reaches of the universe.

These aren’t typical days. Across the University of Washington, faculty, staff, clinicians and students are stepping forward in a variety of ways to support the COVID-19 response, particularly efforts to help front-line medical personnel.

Dalcanton, a UW professor, is busy wrangling badly needed facemasks and other personal protective equipment for medical professionals during the coronavirus response. Volunteers are collecting and distributing unused masks from front porches to medical providers, all while practicing safe-distance guidelines and hygiene.


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“Our niche isn’t to make new masks. Ours is just about collecting some of the small resources people already have,” she said. Dalcanton is one of the creators and operators of the Seattle Mask Brigade, one of several self-made distribution hubs in the region matching donations with medical providers in need.

“Lots of us want to be of use,” she said.

That desire to help out has spurred other initiatives, too, and help has poured in from around the globe to assist in the relief effort in Seattle, said Jennifer Hazelbrook, who works in UW Medicine Advancement.

“We had to build a system to respond to the generous outpouring of support,” Hazelbrook said.

They’ve developed a website that catalogues the needs of UW Medicine and then asks the community for donations. Each day a crew of specially trained volunteers from the UW is collecting donations — masks, goggles, hand sanitizer and more — from the public near the UW Plant Services Building. The volunteers are themselves armed in protective gear, with one person assigned to greet and thank the donor, another person to collect the donations and another team assigned to sort and inventory the donations received.

“It’s been really inspiring to see how the entire community and the UW have rallied to support UW Medicine’s patients and caregivers,” Hazelbrook said. “Our job is just to be able to bring in as many of the critically needed donations as we can.”

And the donations have included more than medical supplies.

Seattle restaurant London Plane donated a week’s worth of staff meals. Lacey-based Girl Scout Troop 45030 collected and donated 286 boxes of cookies for the staff breakrooms at UW Medicine hospitals. Even the singer Lizzo donated lunches for medical workers at UW Medical Center recently.

But it’s been the outpouring of support from the community that’s made the biggest difference.

Kathleen Farrell, the work-life program manager for UW Human Resources, helped to create a kind of concierge child care service for UW Medicine workers. The service matches people in need with UW students, staff, faculty and families and friends who are available to help with child care. Background checks are done for free. There’s also a way for employees who need financial support to ask for no-cost child care.

So far, more than 120 employees have asked for child care help, while about 450 UW students have raised their hands to provide care along with more than 200 friends and family of UW Medicine workers, Farrell said. Of those, 36% of UW students who offered to provide care are willing to do so at no cost, and 16% of UW friends and families are able to work for free.

“It’s really just been heartwarming,” she said.

Local residents should take a look in their hardware supplies and emergency kits to see if they have any items that could be put toward the medical relief effort, such as N95 masks, Dalcanton said.

It doesn’t matter if people have two masks or 2,000; groups like the Seattle Mask Brigade will pick up donated supplies and deliver them to medical centers in need.

“It’s a privilege to be able to help. It’s wonderful to be exposed to the goodness of people,” Dalcanton said. “We’re deeply indebted to the health care workers on the front line and happy to be able to support them.”


More photos

UW volunteers collect donations from a generous public to help with the COVID-19 relief effort.Dennis Wise/University of Washington


UW volunteers collect donations from a generous public to help with the COVID-19 relief effort.Dennis Wise/University of Washington


UW volunteers collect donations from a generous public to help with the COVID-19 relief effort.Dennis Wise/University of Washington