By Jeanne Leong
Becca Yankelevich’s weekday schedule begins with signing in to her Rutgers Law School remote learning courses during the COVID-19 pandemic, but as soon as classes end for the day, she is reaching out to medical supply distributors, manufacturers, and stores to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) for Philadelphia-area health care workers.
As a volunteer for Medical Students for Masks, Yankelevich RLAW '22 is helping to collect donations of masks, gloves, and other protective gear for hospitals, health centers, and other organizations in the Philadelphia area that are running out of PPE to keep staff safe while treating patients.
Yankelevich became involved in the initiative to assist her sister Gabi, a medical student at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and a co-founder of the group.
The first-year Rutgers Law student from Malvern, Pa., engaged with the group when “one of our friends told us their hospital informed staff they would have to wear bandanas to work for protection because, starting next week, they would be completely out of masks. We want health care workers to go into work and have basic protective equipment available to them.”
Yankelevich has been helping to round up items such as N95 masks, goggles, gloves, and face shields since the group launched the initiative on March 22. Approximately 50 student health professionals, along with the Rutgers University–Camden law student, are volunteering with Medical Students for Masks handling fundraising, equipment collection, and delivering supplies to health care providers in need.
The sisters turned to family and friends, asking for help in finding medical equipment distributors or leads to anyone who has items to donate. They established connections through unlikely professions such as an exterminator, who donated masks, gloves, and additional protective gear. The group has received donations from places such as nail salons, hardware stores, and a tattoo artist.
From Google searches, they found distributors that sell a variety of PPE, from gloves to N95 masks. Through a GoFundMe account, the group has raised more than $42,000 to purchase supplies. The group has purchased over 7,000 masks, 40 intubation boxes, 120 face shields, and numerous other PPE from equipment distributors.
So far, the group has distributed PPE to more than 25 hospitals and health care organizations, a paramedic unit in Narberth, Pa., and Project HOME, a social service organization that assists the homeless.
While collecting and delivering items, the volunteers use protective gear themselves and are mindful of maintaining social distancing, dropping off boxes quickly and moving on to make the next delivery.
“I have made it a priority to collect the supplies with as little interaction as possible to lower my risk of infection,” says Yankelevich. “I only leave the house to do drop-offs and pickups. It’s not a perfect system, but the supplies are needed quickly so they require in-person deliveries. I wouldn’t say I am concerned for my safety, but I also recognize the gravity of the situation.”
Yankelevich is considering a future in public-interest law and is grateful for the opportunity to help during the pandemic. It is a welcome diversion from the rigors of law school, she says, including her work on writing a 20-page legal brief for a legal research and writing course.
She is keeping in touch with faculty via FaceTime meetings and by phone, and staying in touch with classmates through social media, texting, and video chats.
“I’m lucky that my classes are pretty flexible. I still study every day, but I’ve been able to manage volunteering and organizing supplies to be delivered while maintaining my schoolwork,” says Yankelevich.