How We Helped

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic several current and former huskies answer the call to help their communities

By Becca Gaddy

When the coronavirus pandemic began to grow at a concerning rate in March, Northeastern University announced that they were sending all students home and the rest of the semester would continue virtually. Students were forced to quickly pack up and leave the rest of the spring semester behind. While many students were forced to adjust to remote classes and work, Lilli Patterson, junior nursing major and field hockey midfielder, did the exact opposite.

During the Spring 2020 semester, Patterson was on co-op as an emergency service assistant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. When the pandemic hit, she soon realized that she was about to have an entirely different co-op experience than expected.

“Our nurse director strongly encouraged that all of the co-ops stay on because they definitely needed help and working during this pandemic would be a very good experience for us,” Patterson said. “All of us decided to continue our co-ops and it became a group effort.”

Patterson was one of the many Northeastern student-athletes and alumni that dedicated their time to help during the pandemic.

Only two days after Northeastern sent students home, Hannah Rosenblatt, women’s soccer volunteer assistant coach and former player, decided to create a mask making initiative that started out with just her and her siblings but gained enormous attention overnight. 

“My dad is a trauma surgeon, and he came home from work and was like, ‘We need masks,’ Rosenblatt said. “I kind of thought he was joking, but then he told us to get online and find people to sew us some masks.”

Rosenblatt and her siblings decided to reach out to people on a variety of social media platforms and share a Google form for anyone who was interested. Within three hours, they had hundreds of emails and they realized how big this was going to be. After 12 hours, they had over 3,000 responses.

Hannah Rosenblatt making a mask

Making masks became a trend during the pandemic and Glen Giovanucci, former men’s hockey captain and assistant coach, utilized his company’s resources in hope that they could produce and distribute masks as they were becoming scarce.

As CEO, Giovanucci made the decision to transform his company, G-Form, from a protective gear distributor for sports, athletics, outdoor enthusiasts and military/tactical personnel into a producer of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders and hospital staff.

“We had to figure out how to get these resources out to nurses, doctors, and first responders,” Giovanucci said.

For Giovanucci, the company’s new business was originally established for economic reasons, but as the process continued it became clear that emotional components were more important.

“The process of producing and distributing PPE material definitely had emotional components because these people didn’t have enough resources. They had blisters on their faces from working all night and day so we had to figure out a way to support them,” Giovanucci said.

Through the transformation of G-Form, Giovanucci was able to successfully find a way to provide more resources for those working on the frontline.

“I definitely feel that we were able to help because resources like face shields and masks were becoming scarce,” he said.

Similarly to Giovanucci, Rosenblatt’s goal was to fill the immediate need for masks. As the project grew, they realized how many places really needed masks. 

“Whether it was hospitals, homeless shelters, or even grocery stores, people were desperate to stay safe and we were able to provide this safety net,” Rosenblatt said. 

Hannah Rosenblatt (left) and her siblings with some of the 5,000 masks they helped produce

As weeks passed and the coronavirus continued to spread at a fast pace, people quickly began to understand that it wasn’t going away anytime soon. As the atmosphere of the country grew darker, the willingness of communities and people to come together to help and support others served as a ray of positivity. 

“Nobody knew the coronavirus was going to be this big, and it has had a really horrible effect on every aspect of life,” Rosenblatt said. “However, one positive that came out of it is the appreciation that people have for healthcare workers.”

For Patterson, the entire experience of working at Brigham and Women’s had an immense effect on her, but the interactions with patients and families were the most influential. 

“In the beginning, we would be working in the front where they swabbed everyone and would have to watch family members drop off the patient and instantly say goodbye,” Patterson said. “During small talk, it became even harder because sometimes the patients were so upset they were in tears.”

Although Brigham and Women’s is located in Boston, Patterson would meet patients from all over New England. “It’s crazy to think so many people are coming from so far away and they have to spend the most stressful time of their life completely alone,” Patterson said.

For Patterson and her coworkers, the key to helping their patients was staying positive, especially during a time with so much uncertainty.

“That’s the most you can do. If they know that you’re stressed, then that’s not going to make them feel any better,” Patterson said. Even as a co-op, Patterson was able to experience how healthcare workers have gone above and beyond for their job during this difficult time. 

Regardless if they are aware of it or not, Patterson, Rosenblatt and Giovanucci’s participation in the pandemic intertwine with each other. 

G-Form produced over one million face shields

– Glen Giovannuci’s company statistics

The efforts of these Northeastern athletes, whether it was making masks, producing and distributing resources, or working on the front lines, each had a similar goal to help struggling communities during an uncertain time. However, they began to understand that it wasn’t just a co-op or about making masks. Instead, it became a way to rally around the variety of people whose lives were turned upside down due to the virus.

“I continue to feel frustration because you have so many people who aren’t obeying the rules, social distancing or wearing a mask. It’s honestly so aggravating because of everything that healthcare workers have done and how people have put their lives on the line. Time has almost stopped because everyone’s life has been turned upside down and you still have people who don’t take the virus seriously,” Patterson said. 

While the virus itself has been a main concern, the people who have dedicated their time to fight it are just as important. Rosenblatt and Giovanucci realized this and their contributions aided the efforts of frontline workers like Patterson.

“The hospital workers were treating people who were helpless,” Rosenblatt said, “but at the same time they [themselves] were helpless because they didn’t have the resources to be safe.”