Frontline stories: Charlie Blodnieks, NYC Regional Coordinator of MedSupplyDrive and Columbia College Student (‘21)
By: Julienne Jeong (CC '21)
“One of the most important realizations that I had early on was that in the face of a crisis, there was a place for everybody to help. It wasn’t a matter of finding a position that I was uniquely qualified for, but it was a matter of just getting involved.
In academia, we are always told to take time to prepare and be certain of our decisions, but this crisis has shown me that I, along with the rest of the world, will never be prepared for most things. I’m not a science major, I’m not on the pre-medical track, and I don't even know where the heart is located in the body. Yet, I figured things out because I realized that things needed to happen and we couldn’t wait around for people to do them.
I think that actually worked to my advantage because while a lot of people were reaching out to similar medical organizations for PPE donations, I thought of places that used PPE in other industries. As an English major, I knew that rare books and manuscripts had to be carefully handled because many of the texts are hundreds of years old, so I reached out to the Columbia Rare Books and Manuscripts Library and they actually donated over 30 boxes of gloves, masks, shoe covers, and full body covers. It was only our second donation, but it is still the largest donation we have ever received.
I ran down the street in the pouring rain and I showed up to the back of Butler Library with a small wagon to carry the PPE donations from 116th to 89th street. The librarian was waiting with eight moving boxes full of nitrile gloves, and he told me, “This probably won’t fit.” He was right. That was one of the first moments that I thought, “Ok, we’re doing something.”
Our first priority was to donate to hospitals and clinics that were being underserved by the existing PPE network. We’ve also donated to women’s shelters, soup kitchens, and trans healthcare facilities, a few of which were close to shutting down as a direct result of PPE shortages. These shortages weren’t just affecting cases of COVID-19 but they were impacting people who needed PPE for other important uses, like getting access to hormone therapy or receiving basic healthcare needs.
Now, we have warehouse coordinators and drivers, most of whom we found on Facebook Queer Exchange and are uninvolved in medicine. They’re just regular people with cars, bikes, and motorcycles who offer to transport materials to nearby facilities. Sometimes, I’ll run with a backpack full of masks myself.
There were definitely moments when I wanted to sit and watch Desperate Housewives for four hours with my eyes glazed over, but I knew that this was work that needed to get done. Every pair of gloves we donated mattered, and that was what pushed me through.”
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