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September 2020

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New York Volunteers Help Get
Urgent PPE to Medical Workers

The images were shocking: nurses and doctors in the world's most prosperous city begging for help as New York's soaring COVID-19 infections drained their stockpiles of masks, gowns, gloves and other personal protective equipment.

The situation put medical workers at increased risk, forcing them to treat multiple patients without changing the sanitary gear that is intended to be used once and discarded.

When New York City Local 3 members in Westchester County heard of a way they could help, they couldn't jump fast enough.

"It felt like waking up on Christmas morning," said journeyman wireman and 40-year member Terry Grady, describing the hours he spent sorting and packing PPE at a Yonkers charity in April.

The Afya Foundation, whose name means "health" in Swahili, sends donated PPE and other medical supplies to impoverished hospitals and clinics around the globe. This time it was New York in dire need.

From the beginning, Afya had been scrambling to get its warehouse of supplies to area hospitals. But it was short volunteers. As the virus claimed more lives every day, New Yorkers — especially retirees who regularly pull shifts at the foundation — were sheltering at home.

Union nurses pitched in as much as possible but were spread thin by the demands of desperate hospitals.

Cue the IBEW.

Learning about the warehouse on a labor conference call that included nurses, Westchester-based Local 3 business representative Lou Sanchez pledged to round up volunteers.

His members were so eager to help that he had to turn some down. Social distancing, another factor affecting Afya's backlog, forced the foundation to limit volunteers to about 10 at a time.

"There's more than one way to save a life," Sanchez said. "It was a good feeling to know we could make a difference."

Local 3 crews put their gloved hands to work in the 17,000-square foot warehouse during shifts the third week in April.

"It was like an assembly line," said journeyman and 20-year member William Mendez. "You take a package out of the box, it could be syringes, you go down the aisles, you look at the number, the number tells you what aisle to go to and how far down the aisles. You look at the code on the outside of the box and that tells you how many of the items go in the box."

They sorted gowns, booties, shoes, bandages, eye wash, iodine, bags for blood, cotton balls, surgical tape, gauze, and more, including, but in shorter supply, masks and gloves.

"You should have heard the cheering, when somebody opened a box with N95 masks," Mendez said.

Volunteer coordinator Mary Grace Pagaduan said the Local 3 crews prepared boxes to ship to more than 150 area medical facilities, including hospitals, clinics and nursing homes.

"They were wonderful," she said. "They worked really hard and they were able to do things fast because they could lift big boxes and move pallets around. It was really, really helpful."

The donated materials come from hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities — typically items past their expiration date that are in perfect condition.

"We rescue surplus medical supplies that otherwise would have been thrown out in landfills or incinerators," Pagaduan said, a bounty that's added up to 11 million pounds of shipments to 84 countries over the past 13 years.

In early 2020, she said Afya was readying boxes for earthquake-ravaged Puerto Rico, as well as Haiti, Tanzania and Malawi. The shipments were rerouted first to Wuhan, China, and then much closer to home.

"We were delivering up to 12 shipments a day to the tri-state area, mostly New York City," she said.

Afya restarted its global operations recently with a shipment to Haiti, but is also delivering to hotspots around the country, Grace said, adding that the warehouse is now open to anyone interested in volunteering.

The Local 3 teams left an impression that went beyond their strength and efficiency.

"Getting to know the guys, and the fact that they took their own time to come over and help us, it was beautiful," Pagaduan said. "My staff just loved them."

It was mutual. Like Grady's sense of Christmas joy, the volunteers felt blessed to be there.

"They made us feel so comfortable," said shop steward Mike Doyley, who marked 25 years with Local 3 in August. "I'm so grateful that out of all the people who wanted to volunteer, that I was able to have this experience.

"I'm not one of the workers who was on the front lines. It felt good to be able to get people who are on the front lines the equipment they needed just by offering our time."

If you're in the New York City region and are interested in volunteering at Afya, email for more information.


Some of the Westchester-based Local 3 volunteers who helped sort and pack critically needed PPE at the Afya Foundation in Yonkers as COVID-19 surged in the NYC in April. From left, members Walter Beck, Mike Doyley and Brian Oshea; business representative Rich McSpedon; members Terry Grady and Frank McGovern; and business representative Louie Sanchez.

Coronavirus Couldn't Stop Local 94's Annual Food Drive

Even though their state was among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the members of Cranbury, N.J., Local 94's "NxtUp94" young electrical workers committee still managed in June to go ahead and conduct their seventh annual food drive.

"What they did this year — to think of people less fortunate than themselves in the middle of this health crisis — has to be one of the most selfless acts a person can make," said Local 94 Business Manager Buddy Thoman.

The haul from the committee's food drive was impressive, with the young members able to collect nearly $8,000 in food and monetary donations.

"Our local covers New Jersey from north to south, Bergen County to Salem County, and our office is in the middle, in Hightstown," Thoman said "When we started NxtUp94, we would do this collection throughout the state."

Each year, committee members place food drive collection cans at every utility and work location under Local 94's purview. Members and others can either place their food donations in one of the cans, or they can contribute money online.

"This year, it's no surprise that they brought in more cash than anything," Thoman said.

Most food banks are grateful for any kind of donations, although cash generally allows them greater flexibility to buy specific food items that don't traditionally get donated but are desperately needed, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

As always, this year's NxtUp94 food drive helped support the Rise Community Services food pantry located next to the union hall.

"The pantry was so surprised that they were still doing it," Thoman said. "Worried about their health, but they still help the community."

Rise Executive Director Leslie Koppel, who also serves as a freeholder for Middlesex County, told Thoman that the donations would stay in the local community to help nearby families. Noting that the food bank's shelves tend to be all but cleaned out by June, about the time that the typically generous mass of food donations during the winter holidays runs out, Koppel said that these timely collections would help feed 125 Hightstown families for two full months.

"We have all been affected by this pandemic, especially here in New Jersey, and these young workers sacrificed their time and wellbeing to help our community while being in the midst of crisis themselves," Thoman said. "These selfless acts do not go unnoticed, and we are proud of our young workers, who are honorably leading the way for the next generation of Local 94 members."

Now in its eighth year, the NxtUp94 committee was established as a local chapter of the IBEW's greater RENEW/NextGen initiative to encourage up-and-coming IBEW men and women to become active in their local, Thoman said. "It's a good way of engaging the younger members of our local."

In the past, the committee has set up an agenda for the coming year, filling a calendar with social and community service events throughout the state. This year, thanks to the coronavirus, that calendar has been all but thrown out.

Thoman said that the NxtUp94 committee has been a real positive for the local. "Our executive board has two of its young workers on it, with an officer in the top five of our leadership," he said, "and we now have our first business agent to come out of the group."


Pictured delivering donations to the Rise Community Services food pantry following NxtUp94's annual food collection drive are, from left, committee members Nick Allessandro, Matt Nee, Ed Cody, Joe Davis and Mike Garcia; food pantry director Julia Badulescu; and NxtUp94 members Mike Butler, Joe Checkley, Hal Cunningham and Shawn Sawicki.

Indiana Women's Committee Starts Strong
Out of the Gate, Powering Horse Therapy Facility

The South Bend, Ind., Local 153 women's committee hasn't been around long, but they're wasting no time in making a difference, both for their members and for the community.

Five women members volunteered their time to power a barn that's part of a local therapeutic horse-riding organization, Reins of Life. The work started in June and finished up in early August.

"This is a great way for the women to work together on a project that helps the community," said Local 153 Business Manager Mike Leda. "I'm really proud of what they've accomplished so far."

Reins of Life is a nonprofit that offers therapeutic riding lessons to children and adults with disabilities in Indiana and Michigan. Programs include those for people who have experienced trauma, those with developmental disabilities, for K-12 students and for veterans. So, when the 42-year-old organization reached out to Local 153 for help wiring a barn, Leda alerted the women's committee, which was happy to help.

"We had a ball working on this project," said Local 153 member Brenda Stevens, who heads the committee. "It's rare to work with more than one woman on a job, much less an all-women crew."

Stevens said the women worked on a new building that will serve as a space for storage and as a workshop. Members piped the entire building, built out the insulated interior and did all the lighting. Jennifer Martell, of Martell Electric, also donated tools and other items.

Stevens also noted the silver lining of the women having the time to work on it since they were laid off due to the coronavirus.

"We were looking for a volunteer project since we were all home," Stevens said. "In a sense, it came along at a good time."

Stevens noted that a benefit of working with other women is there's no risk of a "boys club" mentality. There's also no one recklessly muscling through anything.

"There's no ego pushing us to risk our bodies," Stevens said. "We want to still be in good shape when we're retired, so we can enjoy it. And as women, we have to think outside of the box in terms of doing certain things."

The Reins of Life project was the first for the women's committee, which had its first meeting in December and is working on getting its charter. Stevens says she's also working on a mentoring program.

"It's gotten much, much better since I started," Stevens said, noting that most of the women in the local are younger and earlier in their careers. "When I started out, there was no one to ask advice of. I don't want that to be the case for our new women coming in."

She's also looking into establishing a program to help members who are pregnant, or who have partners who are pregnant.

"We don't want any member to have to choose between starting a family and staying in the trade," Stevens said.

Stevens is looking into what IBEW locals in Oregon did recently to establish a pregnancy benefit, as well as a similar program the Ironworkers started. She's also working with Local 153's health and welfare fund.

"I love working in the trade, and so do my sisters," Stevens said. "We want to do whatever we can to make sure we can stay in this job that we love."

Stevens also noted the support of Local 153's leadership.

"We've been so blessed to have support," Stevens said. "I know that's not how it always is, and it makes a big difference."

Leda noted that the committee was off and running from the very start.

"Brenda and the other women saw a need in the local, and they took it to a new level," Leda said. "The women's committee is a great representative of not just Local 153 but the IBEW as a whole and what it stands for."


Members of South Bend, Ind., Local 153's women's committee volunteered their skills at an area horse therapy facility.