When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation and forced many into quarantine, social distancing, and remote learning, members of the Barnard family stepped up to lend a helping hand. From offering hot-meal deliveries for medical staff to being frontline workers themselves, they zeroed in on how they as individuals could have a positive impact in uncertain times.
In advance of Barnard Magazine’s Fall issue (October 2020), which will feature five different alumnae who volunteered during the pandemic or worked on the frontlines, the College highlights seven doers and thinkers — from Barnard’s faculty, students, and alumnae alike — who engaged in problem solving and helped created stability and clarity amid a period of global confusion.
Elizabeth Ananat, associate professor of economics, has shared her expertise with media outlets across the country on the various ways the pandemic has affected low-wage workers — from a New York Times op-ed (May 19) advocating for the Paycheck Guarantee Act to quotes in Reuters, NPR, and FiveThirtyEight on the initial federal stimulus support for families and small businesses.
“These are paycheck-to-paycheck folks, who are going to spend this money,” Ananat told the Times in an article published on May 28. “They’re going to spend this money, keeping us from having a rent-payment crisis and from having a malnourished-children crisis. That strikes me as pretty good for the economy overall.”
As a member of the 1st Medical Battalion based out of the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Blair Bloomquist ’14 was prepared to set up medical facilities with emergency rooms, intensive care units, and surgical operating-room capabilities if the pandemic overwhelmed San Diego-area hospitals. Ultimately, the city didn’t need the extra facilities, but Bloomquist continued to work as an ER nurse at the Naval Medical Center San Diego caring for COVID-19 patients.
“The work was exhausting and draining, and we learned a lot as we went,” Bloomquist reflected. “It seemed like new guidelines about how and where to care for different patient populations were rolled out daily.”
Before the pandemic began, Bloomquist learned she’d been accepted into Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business to pursue an MBA this fall. “While the decision to leave the [naval service] at such a critical time was difficult, I have also recognized that healthcare is only as good as the system that delivers it,” Bloomquist said. “I believe that I can affect greater change for a greater number of beneficiaries serving at the intersection of healthcare and business.”
Fran Bullard ’14 has also worked on the frontlines of the pandemic as a medical professional. Bullard is a pediatrics resident at a hospital in the Bronx, where the impact of the pandemic was particularly devastating. In March, the children’s hospital where she works transformed one of its floors into an adult COVID-19 unit to alleviate some of the burden on the overflowing adult hospital.
“I believe some of the changes prompted by COVID-19 will last beyond the duration of the pandemic,” Bullard reflected, citing the increased prevalence of telehealth visits as an example. “I also think COVID has brought to light some of the issues that have, until now, been largely ignored in medicine, including racial disparities. As devastating as COVID has been, I hope that the lessons we’ve learned from it will result in lasting, meaningful changes to healthcare and medicine in the future.”
Gloribelle J. Perez ’05 opened Barcha, the Latin-Mediterrean restaurant in Harlem she co-owns with her husband, right before the pandemic hit. Though like most people she was caught off guard by COVID-19, Perez quickly shifted the focus of her business to help the surrounding community. Starting in April, she began serving frontline hospital workers with hot meals. Inspired by her father, a physician in Florida who is at an increased risk for contracting the novel coronavirus, Perez said, “What I couldn’t do for him, I did for frontline hospital workers here in NYC. From the Bronx to Queens and Manhattan, we brought food to as many hospitals as we could.” Although Barcha absorbed all costs initially, friends, family, and customers soon contributed, helping Perez and her team deliver 1,000 meals to hospital workers, including nurses and janitorial staff.
“It’s important that all those putting themselves at risk know that we love them, and appreciate them,” said Perez. The mother of five-year-old twins is also working to provide pantry items to unemployed hospitality workers and meals to Harlem families living in NYCHA housing. The public can help Barcha continue to help others by ordering delivery from the restaurant's website, buying gift cards for loved ones, or using their gift card balances to donate meals to community members in need. Make sure to follow Barcha on Instagram and Facebook.
When economic disruptions began in March and volunteers stayed home for health and safety reasons, Janis Robinson ’82 — vice president of institutions and partnerships for the Food Bank for New York City — and her company stepped up to the frontlines to help feed the nation’s largest city themselves. The numbers are staggering: Robinson has overseen the distribution of 95 million pounds of food this year, or 114 million meals, compared with their annual average of 70 million pounds. “It is important to offer more meals during the pandemic because there are more people in need. We are serving many first-time visitors to our soup kitchens and food pantries. In addition to our many clients, there are a great number of people who are out of work.” Robinson and her Food Bank for New York City team continue to serve communities in need.
Filling in Voids
In March, medical student Sara Lederman ’12 co-founded MN COVIDsitters, to match undergraduate and graduate student volunteers with healthcare workers who need help with babysitting, errands, and other chores in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The site now has more than 400 volunteers who have fulfilled requests for assistance from more than 100 families. (MN COVIDsitters was featured in The New Yorker on May 11.)
The desire to be of service to others, nurtured during Lederman’s childhood, crystallized at Barnard. “While I might not have learned what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she said of her time at the College, “I knew who I wanted to be.”
In April, at the height of the nation’s quarantine, art history major Camille Marchini ’22 went from mending costumes with the Department of Theatre’s costume shop manager, Kara Feely, to making masks with supplies provided by Barnard’s Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Using her sewing machine and internet guidelines provided by surgeon Lauren Streicher, Marchini created reusable cotton masks for essential workers and medical workers who may not have access to enough personal protective equipment or whose jobs don’t require them to wear N95 respirators or surgical masks.
“Barnard students are always happy to step in,” Marchini said via Zoom in April. “A lot of students have been venting about moving out and their struggle, but you see the Barnard community supporting each other, and it’s nice to think about how we can do something other than be on Zoom.”
Make sure to check back in October for Barnard Magazine’s feature.