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Journey of a Hundred Miles in Florida Bearing Gifts of PPE

Southern  |  June 17, 2020
Tedd Comerford (second right) and Jason Dispagno, from the Supply Chain Department, accept Tzu Chi USA’s donation of PPE for UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital and Medical Center. Photo / Fuchi Prucha

Written by Fuchi Prucha
Translated by Pen-Chi Liu
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

The COVID-19 pandemic that struck in 2019 has had an enormous impact around the world. The infection rate in the United States had still not come down in May, even after nearly two months of stay-at-home orders in some areas. Yet given the economic hardships and suffering resulting from these measures, state and local governments eagerly prepared to reopen restaurants, beaches, parks, fitness centers, churches, etc., around Memorial Day Weekend.  

Healthcare facilities nationwide had been receiving supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by state governments. However, for healthcare workers on the frontlines of COVID-19, the amounts of PPE received are never sufficient. When they encounter organizations willing to donate supplies, gratitude and warmth fill their hearts.

The first shipment of PPE received in April at Tzu Chi USA’s service center in Orlando, Florida was limited and didn’t allow volunteers to donate to organizations too far outside the city limits. As soon as a second shipment arrived from Houston in May, volunteers immediately contacted two healthcare institutions in Gainesville, more than 100 miles north of Orlando – the Tacachale Developmental Disability Center, a Tacachale Dahlia Hospital Unit; and UF (University of Florida) Health Shands Cancer Hospital and Medical Center.

Tedd Comerford, Associate Vice President of Supply Chain Services at UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital and Medical Center, signs for the PPE. Photo / Fuchi Prucha
Tzu Chi USA donates 200 KN95 masks, 1,000 medical masks, 100 goggles, and 30 coverall gowns to UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital and Medical Center on May 21. Photo / Fuchi Prucha

Volunteers from the Orlando Service Center have had a great relationship with the Tacachale  Developmental Disability Center, the oldest and largest community for Floridians with developmental disabilities, for 23 years. In the beginning, they only went there to wrap gifts around Christmas time to bring joy to the residents. But gradually, they got to know many of the residents staying in the facility’s nine buildings and began preparing Christmas gifts for them. Although they meet only once a year, they’re as familiar and loved as though part of one family.

As for UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital and Medical Center, Tzu Chi USA had established a connection earlier in May, when volunteers visited a Chinese international student seeking treatment there. Because of the relationships that began during that visit, volunteers contacted the hospital to inquire whether it was short of PPE. Confirming its needs, plans for a trip to Gainesville were set in motion.

On Thursday, May 21, volunteers Terry and Fuchi Prucha, who live in Ocala, about 80 miles from Orlando, got a call from Lisa Lynch inviting them to participate in the delivery of PPE to Gainesville. Lisa and Bob Lynch, who is Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Orlando Service Center, would be driving past Ocala on their way to Gainesville. Without hesitation, Fuchi accepted the invitation to join them.

At 1:00 PM, meeting the volunteers in front of the hospital’s loading dock, Tedd Comerford and Jason Dispagno, from the Supply Chain Department, accepted Tzu Chi USA’s donation of PPE for UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital and Medical Center. Tedd felt touched by the fact that total strangers, from a charitable organization he had never heard of, would drive over 100 miles to deliver this precious PPE to the hospital in person. He was very grateful for this surprise gift of 200 KN95 masks, 1,000 medical masks, 100 goggles, and 30 coverall gowns.

After accepting the surprise donation of PPE for UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital and Medical Center, Tedd Comerford (left) learns more about Tzu Chi and its missions. Photo / Fuchi Prucha

At the Tacachale Developmental Disability Center, while the facility is closed to visitors during the pandemic, the staff are still in need of PPE to protect themselves and the residents. Accepting Tzu Chi USA’s donation of 1,000 medical masks and 50 KN95 masks, Paula Hawkins, Volunteer Services Coordinator, expressed her gratitude to the volunteers for not forgetting the residents and staff and taking the time to drive to Gainesville to deliver their precious gift.

Paula Hawkins (right), Volunteer Services Coordinator at Tacachale Developmental Disability Center, accepts Tzu Chi USA’s gift of medical and KN95 masks. Photo / Fuchi Prucha

It was a journey of over a hundred miles going from Orlando to Gainesville. And yet, it was a joy to undertake for the volunteers from Tzu Chi USA’s Orlando Service Center, knowing the relief it would bring to the staff at two healthcare facilities in Gainesville. Such aid initiatives are continually taking place nationwide during the pandemic. 

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