‘Answer the call’: Princeton students volunteer to help medical workers| May 5, 2020
The sun is setting on a Thursday night in Chatham, N.J., but for Brad Rindos ’23, the workday has only just begun. At 7 p.m., he begins his shift as a volunteer EMT and ambulance driver. He returns home twelve hours later.
Once he’s wrapped up his shift on Friday morning, there’s no time to waste — he immediately changes into his Air Force ROTC uniform, attends a virtual training session, then participates in his physics precept. By 11 a.m., he’s collapsed into bed, finally ready to catch up on sleep.
Rindos first began volunteering as an EMT during his junior year of high school. Despite the added responsibilities of college classes, homework, and ROTC that he now faces, Rindos had no doubt he wanted to resume his service when he moved back home, following the University’s March 11 move-out order.
“At the end of the day, someone has to do this — and who better to do this than me, a young person with no complications which could put me at a higher level of risk?” he said.
Rindos recognizes the potential dangers of entering the homes of COVID-19 patients, but remains determined to do whatever he can to help. “Someone has to be there to answer the call,” he said. “Sometimes danger is a part of the job.”
Serving now is much different from his high school experience. When treating patients, Rindos and his fellow volunteers don full-body Tyvek suits with boots, arm-length gloves, N-95 masks, and plastic face shields.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Princeton community has striven to embody the school’s motto of service. University researchers have worked to stem the virus, a group of alumni have supplied personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical workers in need, and now, students are volunteering their time, doing what they can to help those most impacted by the coronavirus.
For Rindos and other frontline workers to access the masks they need, someone has to produce them. Sally Jane Ruybalid ’21 has made that her goal — from her room in Bloomberg Hall, Ruybalid has sewn around 150 face masks, dedicating upwards of three hours per night to the task.
Ruybalid is a contributing columnist at The Daily Princetonian.
After learning to sew as a child, Ruybalid used her free time to sew costumes and clothes in need of mending. Now, the pandemic has given her hobby a new purpose. When she saw the medical community’s need for masks on the news, she gathered supplies and asked her mom to send a large box of fabric from her home in Colorado.
Since then, she’s delivered packages of 20 masks to two local grocery stores in Princeton, where many employees had resorted to tying scarves around their faces, and sent boxes of masks to four hospitals, including Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She’s distributing to students on campus as well, asking for one dollar in return, to help offset the costs of her materials.
For Ruybalid, inspiration comes from her mother.
“My mom, before I was born, was a physician’s assistant,” she said. “It makes me think that if my mom was in that position and I wasn’t able to help her, I would hope that somebody else would.”
Daniel Jubas ’21 is helping to ensure that medical workers and their patients have another vital resource: blood.
Jubas, the former president of the Princeton chapter of the American Red Cross, worked as a first-year to connect the group with the Pace Center for Civic Engagement and expand its student membership. He is still an active volunteer and works closely with Nikolas Cvetanovic Aguilar ’22, the current president.
When a blood drive scheduled for April was canceled, Jubas worked to coordinate a blood drive for the following month.
“We got the Pace Center, the Office of Community and Regional Affairs, ourselves, and the Red Cross on a Zoom call, and we made the drive happen,” Jubas said.
Because student volunteers are not on campus, Jubas and Aguilar relied on University administrators to help coordinate the drive, which is scheduled to take place May 11–12. The graduate student government also helped spread the word.
Despite the odds, the drive promises to be a success. All 140 spots have already been filled.
And the Princeton Red Cross team isn’t stopping there. Another drive has already been scheduled for July 7, and Jubas has participated in conversations about planning a drive in September, depending on whether students have returned to campus.
Some extra precautions are necessary to ensure the safety of donors and Red Cross staff members. Walk-in appointments will not be permitted, staff and donors will be spaced out more than usual, and staff members will take donors’ temperatures. However taxing these precautions may be, they are well worth the result — blood donations are needed now more than ever.
“Usually, there’s a shortage of blood,” Jubas explained. “Now, there’s an acute shortage.”
Medical workers all over the country are not only facing shortages of blood and PPE but also of personal necessities, such as groceries and gas cards. Summer Crown ’23 is volunteering for the Chicago team of Fuel Our Heroes to alleviate these needs.
Fuel Our Heroes, a student-run organization, was started in Los Angeles by four college students, who partnered with UCLA Health to give donations directly to hospitals in need. After successfully raising money and supporting medical workers in L.A., Fuel Our Heroes expanded to other major cities, including New York, Chicago, Nashville, Boston, Denver, Austin, and San Francisco.
For the past four weeks, Crown has been working with the organization’s Chicago division, helping determine which the hospital system could most benefit from their assistance. After calling hospital administrators and checking the number of deaths and uninsured patients at each hospital, the organization decided to work with Mount Sinai, a chain of hospitals that take in many of the city’s uninsured patients.
The group’s official goal is to raise $50,000 — they’re already $16,500 of the way there, just three days into launching the fundraiser.
Crown says she’s in this for the long-haul. She’ll continue to spread awareness for Fuel Our Heroes over social media, hold meetings with the Chicago team every few days, and volunteer for as long as her help is needed.
“This isn’t going to go away in the blink of an eye,” she said. “It’s not like the hospitals are going to stop needing help.”
With Dean’s Date looming, there’s no doubt each of the four students has more than enough work on their plates. But during this time of crisis, they find their efforts more meaningful than ever. Ruybalid echoed what all of the students noted:
“I think it’s really empowering. I know I can do this, and I can help,” she said.