Rising to the challenge: Yale student helps remedy PPE scarcity

Co-founded by sophomore Emme Magliato and friends, the student-run non-profit PPE4ALL has distributed face shields and masks across the country.

Emme Magliato in front of face shields produced by PPE4ALL.

Last spring, Emme Magliato was studying remotely from her home in Poughkeepsie, New York when she received a group text from a high school friend. Krishna Koka, who studies at the University of Michigan, was worried that his mother, a healthcare worker, and hundreds of thousands like her across the country did not have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they needed to be safe in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Tired of feeling immobilized by the growing pandemic, Magliato, then a first-year student at Yale College, decided to do something about it.

She and a group of high school friends quickly mobilized. Koka was soon making visors on his home 3D printers that could be affixed to plastic face shields. The group reached out to companies across the nation asking if they had plastic, elastic, and foam, along with any other PPE that they could donate or sell at a discounted price.

And Magliato helped enlist 150 volunteers, from local high school and college students to community members, to work in a donated space in downtown Poughkeepsie to make the shields, each working six feet apart in an assembly-line fashion.

Their initiative grew into a nonprofit organization called PPE4NYC, for which Magliato became chief operating officer. The organization has since helped get more than 34,000 face shields, masks, and other pieces of PPE into the hands of people who need them.

At the end of 2020, looking to meet an urgent need for PPE supplies across the country — and perhaps beyond — the group changed its name to PPE4ALL. The nonprofit aims to distribute PPE where supplies are needed, from New Haven to the Navajo Nation. The team plans to reach all 50 states by the end of this month.

PPE4ALL volunteers making face shields.
These PPE4ALL volunteers were among some 150 volunteers, many of them students, who made time to make face shields at a donated space in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Responding to a national need

In the early days, the group distributed thousands of face shields and other PPE for free to hospitals, nursing homes, and other health settings, including Mount Sinai and Montefiore hospitals.

We first focused on New York City because the lack of PPE there was so much in the headlines,” said Magliato, who is one of the coordinators of the Dwight Hall program First-Years in Support of New Haven. “We’d hear from nurses about how doctors sometimes had PPE but they didn’t. We began sending about 50 to 100 face shields a week to health care settings.”

Within months they saw the need for PPE grow beyond just hospitals and health clinics. By summer, Magliato and the team expanded their efforts, distributing free PPE to homeless shelters and other social service and community organizations. In May, when Black Lives Matter protests began in New York after the killing of George Floyd, the Yale student passed out masks to protesters to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Eight months later, the demand continues to grow. While the nation’s hospitals have largely stabilized their supplies of PPE over the past year, there remains a critical need for personal protective equipment in the U.S., according to the nonprofit Get Us PPE

According to the group, requests for PPE nationally climbed by 260% between November and December. Less than 1% of those requests in December came from hospitals. The rest came from nursing homes, home health aide agencies, group homes, shelters, and other community facilities. 

Magliato was grateful to learn from local sewing groups about a New York-based organization, Neighbors for Refugees, which pays refugee women to sew cloth masks. Neighbors for Refugees was able to contribute to PPE4ALL, which, in turn, also helped pay their wages.

It was awesome that we could have this symbiotic relationship where we could support refugee women and they could help us,” said Magliato, who is in the Global Health Studies Multidisciplinary Academic Program for undergraduates interested in addressing global health challenges. 

Magliato, who plans to major in ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB), passed along a supply of PPE to Dr. Sandy Chang, professor of laboratory medicine, pathology, and molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale, after she told him of her work. Chang, who is also Yale College associate dean of science education, shared the PPE with colleagues at Yale New Haven Hospital. 

It’s been a wonderful experience for me to get to know so many other students and community volunteers who I probably never would have met otherwise,” said Magliato. “While these times have been hard, it feels so gratifying to be able to help people.”

To get involved with PPE4ALL or support the initiative, please visit the website or send an email to emme.magliato@yale.edu.

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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale responds to COVID-19