Alumni Lead through the COVID-19 Crisis

"Dispatches from the Pandemic" — Feeding the hungry, making and distributing protective equipment, and providing disinfection solutions, Tufts graduates help their communities
An illustration shows people of various races wearing face masks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tufts University alumni are helping their communities by feeding the hungry, making and distributing protective equipment, and providing disinfection solutions
“Tufts always taught us to be engaged and active around issues that we believe are important,” said Yukinobu Tanimoto, E14. Illustration: iStock
June 8, 2020

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Tufts alumni around the globe are responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic with innovative ideas and a generous spirit. “Dispatches from the Pandemic” is an occasional series featuring the voices of some of those Tufts graduates. Read an earlier installment here. Do you know of others who are leading in their communities? Let us know at now@tufts.edu.

“This is our time to step up.” 

Yukinobu Tanimoto, E14, is a Stanford Yukinobu Tanimotograduate student who has rallied volunteer drivers in the San Francisco Bay Area to deliver personal protective equipment (PPE), working in partnership with Alissa Brandon, E09.

For the past nine weeks, I’ve been leading a volunteer distribution network that delivers PPE in the Bay Area. We work with GetMePPE-SF, a regional affiliate of GetUsPPE, a grassroots organization working to deliver critical protective equipment. We’ve been successful at distributing a staggering amount of donated PPE: more than 81,000 face shields, 292,000 gloves, 7,400 N95 masks, and 75,000 surgical masks. My crew have been volunteering time and have collectively driven over 13,000 miles to more than 220 locations, whoever needs PPE.

We started out distributing 1,500 face shields a week but that grew to over 30,000 a week Alissa Brandonwith generous donations from Boston Scientific. By chance, my contact there turned out to be Alissa Brandon, E09, who works in the San Jose office. She saw people in her local community assembling face shields out of their homes, and mobilized the company’s R&D and manufacturing capabilities to form Project Shield; so far more than 1,070,000 face shields have been built.

Alissa and I want to inspire others, so they know that they too can do something in their local communities. A potential second wave of infections may bring forth new demands and challenges. Tufts always taught us to be engaged and active around issues that we believe are important. For both of us, this is our time to step up. It feels right.

—as told to Laura Ferguson

“I wanted to find a way to break out of my bubble.”

Julie Lucey, N01, vice president at Lucey Company, president at Lucey Real Estate LLC, volunteer for food rescue nonprofits Food Link and Food for Free

Julie LuceyI lost my husband to cancer in February. I had closed off to deal with what was happening in my own small world when the pandemic hit. I wanted to find a way to break out of my bubble, to reach out, connect, and be of service.

I started volunteering with Food Link. On Tuesday mornings, we sort through food that’s going to be thrown away at the local Whole Foods and figure out what’s compost and what can be repurposed. We work at three socially distanced stations in the parking lot, dancing around each other with, “I’m heading toward the dairy cart…” and “I’m going to leave these apples for your fruit box right here….”

Then I connected with Food for Free, another food rescue nonprofit. Every Wednesday afternoon I supervise the packers, distribution, and health checks, and pitch in and pack when needed. It's good, hard work.

It’s great to get food to people who need it—it reminds me there’s enough in this world to feed everyone. And with the need growing exponentially, it has become that much more important to get out and address it, because food is how you control your life and manage your health and wellbeing. Food is health. Food is love.

—as told to Monica Jimenez

“People wanted the cleanliness but without the harmful chemicals.”

Peter Clay, A79, is co-founder of Force of Nature Cleaning and a member of the Board of Advisors for the Tufts Entrepreneurship Center at Tufts Gordon Institute. The pandemic has brought new urgency to his business, which sells a small appliance that turns tap water into an EPA-registered, non-toxic disinfectant.

Peter ClayWhen we founded Force of Nature, our target was mostly moms who wanted to remove toxic cleaning products from the home; we knew people wanted cleanliness but without the harmful chemicals of more traditional products. Now people are not only using the spray bottle at home but also bringing it with them wherever they go to prevent coming in contact with the virus.

While many other products have been hard to find, we have been able to respond to a surge in demand because our supply chain vendor is a world-class global supplier who was able to increase production from 5,000 starter kits a month to 40,000 in under eight weeks. Massachusetts has also selected Force of Nature to be used at more than 500 day-care centers that are taking care of children of health care and emergency services workers.

It feels good to know that a product that began with a strong social and environmental mission is now also helping people stay safe during this horrible pandemic.

—as told to Laura Ferguson

Laura Ferguson canbe reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu. Monica Jimenez canbe reached at monica.jimenez@tufts.edu.