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Ryerson’s Faculty of Science pays it forward amid pandemic

Chemistry and Biology department led the charge to donate gloves, gowns and goggles to Toronto’s nurses and doctors on the frontlines of COVID-19
By: Michelle Grady
March 30, 2020
A man stands with his arms crossed in front of a table piled with boxes of gloves

Ryerson’s Chemistry and Biology department does its part to help alleviate the shortage of gloves for Toronto’s COVID-19 frontline workers. Photo credit: Robert Denning.

Seeing the news of COVID-19’s creep across the province and the impact it’s having on our ICUs is enough to leave anyone feeling helpless. But a team within the department of Chemistry and Biology decided to pay it forward by rounding up 79,000 nitrile gloves, goggles and gowns, and donating them to St. Michael’s Hospital, Sunnybrook Hospital and Women’s College Hospital last week.

“I was listening to the news and thinking about the frontline workers, which include a niece of mine and cousins who are nurses, and I thought ‘we have to do something’,” says chemistry professor Dan Foucher. When classes were transitioned to alternative delivery models last week, the department’s labs were locked up and the gloves were going unused. Knowing this, Foucher decided to reach out to the department chair, Andrew McWilliams, with whom he shares a lab, to ask whether they should donate their 6,000 pairs of gloves to local COVID-19 treatment facilities. McWilliams got back immediately with a resounding yes.

“I then put a call out to our other colleagues saying, ‘we’re doing a glove drive, if you’d like to donate, let us know’,” he says. “Usually when you send an email call out, people get back in 12 hours or so. Here, they did in 30 seconds. As scientists, we follow the science and it's clear that we’re currently in an all-hands-on-deck situation."

All hands on deck

The effort required some coordination across the department, which had its hurdles with everyone working off campus. Rob Denning, a chemistry technologist with key access to the department’s labs and chemistry professor Rob Gossage made the trip to campus to collect the glove and personal protective equipment donations from each lab. Technical specialist Mariam Dejong ensured that all the departmental stock went along with the shipment, which brought the total donation to 79,000 gloves.

A man leans against boxes of gloves piled on a table with his hand in his pocket

The donation effort involved several units and two dedicated glove collectors: Rob Gossage (pictured) and Rob Denning. Photo credit: Robert Denning.

The team sought support from other units as well, including Facilities Management and Development, and Shipping and Receiving. “I reached out to Tanya Vlaskalin in FMD who connected us with her contacts at the University Health Network (UHN) so we could confirm that the hospitals needed the supplies,” says Foucher. “She also reached out to Howard Allen in Shipping and Receiving to ask if his team could make the delivery for us.” Allen’s team provided full support for the initiative, receiving, palletizing and delivering the 500 boxes to the hospitals last Tuesday.

A small team with a big heart

For Foucher, this collective effort helps alleviate some of the anxiety around feeling helpless in a time of crisis. “I thought, if there’s anything that these frontline workers need, this is the time to step up and give whatever we have. All my colleagues agreed,” he says. “Everyone is watching the news and feeling tense, we’re all trying to get our courses online and provide direction and stay calm for our students, but this pay it forward philosophy, this helps shift some of that. There’s something that you can do.”

Denning echoes the sentiment. “In times of need, we pull together as a community, to help out in any way possible,” he says. “Our contribution is a small part for this cause and we didn’t think twice when given the opportunity to help out.”

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