Courtesy of Hillary Jean Bart

On Saturday, 14 volunteers from Elena’s Light and PPE4ALL drove from house to house distributing masks, face shields and disinfectant products to refugee families across the greater New Haven area.

Volunteers gathered in the parking lot of the North Haven Stop & Shop on Saturday morning to pick up bags of personal protective equipment from a designated tent set up by Elena’s Light. About 350 individuals from the 56 recipient families received a total of almost 600 pieces of PPE. Elena’s Light is a New Haven-based organization that aims to build better futures for local refugee women and children through English language learner programs and health education. PPE4ALL, a nonprofit organization founded by Emme Magliato ’23, assembles pieces of PPE and donates them to at-risk communities across the country.

“A lot of families, our partners, just the refugee community in general, did not have access to reusable masks,” Hillary Jean-Bart ’24, program development coordinator and ELL coordinator for Elena’s Light, told the News. “We know that there’s a lot of unequal distribution of COVID-19 among immigrant populations, and so we wanted to make sure that they had resources to protect themselves.” 

The partnership between Elena’s Light and PPE4ALL began in February, after Fereshteh Ganjavi, founder and executive director of Elena’s Light, realized the need for access to free protective equipment within the local refugee community. At about the same time, Ganjavi said, a Yale student who volunteered for both PPE4ALL and Elena’s Light suggested that the two organizations hold a joint meeting. Soon after, the planning for Saturday’s event began.

Elena’s Light selected 56 refugee families in the New Haven area as target recipients for the PPE kits. 

According to Magliato, PPE4ALL took on the task of assembling equipment kits for each member of the families — face shields, KN95 masks and sewn reusable masks for adults with smaller cloth masks with filters for children. The kits also included hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

At Saturday’s event, each volunteer was assigned to distribute the equipment to approximately five families each, driving from door to door. Jean-Bart said the organization also received a “surprise” donation of 100 donuts from Donut Crazy on Friday night, which they included along with the PPE bags. 

“It was a complete success — every family that was on the list, we were able to get the PPE to,” said Magliato. “I delivered six packages, which was very exciting. We got to interact with some of the families, some of [the kits] we just left outside of the house or apartment. It was a really, really successful day of having volunteers that were there, and we had translations ready.”

Both PPE4ALL and Elena’s Light have a history of collaboration with Yale students, who made up six of the 14 volunteers on Saturday. 

Ganjavi, an educator and former refugee, founded Elena’s Light in 2019 after noticing the lack of support and opportunities available for refugee women in New Haven. The organization offers virtual health education classes taught by professionals from the Yale New Haven Health System, offered once every two weeks and directed towards refugee women. They also provide free one-on-one ELL tutoring. 

Through Dwight Hall, Yale students have the opportunity to intern with Elena’s Light, which is how Jean-Bart became involved with the organization. According to Ganjavi, they are also looking for more Yale students to volunteer as tutors for the ELL program.

Magliato founded PPE4ALL in March of last year, after she left campus at the onset of the pandemic. Collaborating with other college students in her hometown of Poughkeepsie, NY, Magliato began reaching out to plastic and foam suppliers with the goal of manufacturing face shields. Originally, these face shields were sent to hospitals in New York — however, Magliato said, they soon realized that the need for PPE was equally great in at-risk communities that were not “getting the headlines”. 

In the past year, PPE4ALL has distributed almost 50,000 pieces of PPE across 42 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Recipients have included homeless shelters, free clinics, soup kitchens and tribal organizations.

“I think during the pandemic, communities like refugees and immigrants have been kind of left out of the story,” Magliato said. “It’s relatively easy to contact a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, but sometimes it’s harder to find that kind of organization that’s serving refugee families that are in so much need, but can’t be as visible.”

In addition to making their own face shields and masks, PPE4ALL also accepts donations of everything from KN95 masks to gloves.

Ganjavi emphasized the importance of this collaborative effort to distribute PPE to refugee families who may not have the financial means to purchase them on their own. The roles that refugees fill within the New Haven community cause them to be disproportionately vulnerable to COVID-19, while their access to medical care is often limited, she said. 

“For the refugee community in New Haven, many of the husbands — or anyone in the household — are essential workers,” said Ganjavi. “They are working at the factories, they are working at Amazon, at the restaurants. But they are not eligible to receive vaccines … I believe that this PPE can keep many more people healthy, protect the other people in the family and the women too.” 

According to the city’s COVID-19 Hub, there have been 11,931 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Haven.

Sylvan Lebrun | sylvan.lebrun@yale.edu

SYLVAN LEBRUN
Sylvan Lebrun reports on City Hall. She previously covered nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College majoring in English.