Paramedic Alison Thompson has been around the world in health and crisis hot spots practically everywhere. Recently, she was worried about the spread of COVID-19 right here in South Florida during the July 4th weekend.
Thompson, ambassador to the Haitian Ministry of Environment and founder of Third Wave Volunteers, has spent the pandemic working out of her garage in Coconut Grove to make sure first responders all over the U.S. have the personal protective equipment (PPE) gear and N95 masks they need.
She and her team of volunteers have already donated almost half a million masks nationwide.
The program is called the Women in White N95 Mask Drive although volunteers are not only women. Organizing and packing is also done in the garage of Richard Sherman, Thompson’s neighbor and Third Wave volunteer.
“As a Sept. 11th first responder, and from my experience in responding to thousands of American disasters, Americans are really great at rising together for the greater purpose of unity in one nation,” Thompson said.
“July 4th is about patriotism and wearing a mask is about our love for our independence and caring for our fellow Americans. Wearing a mask says, ‘I respect you.’
“The person next to you may have a weaker, compromised system, and if you are asymptomatic (which means you have COVID but show no symptoms), you can pass it on unknowingly to your grandma or father who could be dead two weeks later.
“Loving and caring for the well-being of our family and friends is about basic love for each other. How is that political? We have to bring this all back to love.”
Thompson said her Third Wave Volunteers have sent masks to hospitals, first responders and facilities across the U.S., including to Rikers Island and Homestead prisons, nursing homes, Navajo nations and Los Angeles. fire departments, all South Florida fire departments from the Keys up to Palm Beach, homes for the disabled, and women’s shelters.
“Fire trucks turn up at my house to get masks, some driving down from Boca,” she said.
“We’ve been working our guts out since February and we are in complete exhaustion because also, the seven months before COVID, we were in tents camping in the Bahamas helping rebuild. What bothers us first responders most is people not wearing masks or burning them.
“I have nurses calling me in tears when they see people burning boxes of masks to prove you don’t need to wear them. Meanwhile, they’ve been wearing their one mask for a month and begging for more. It’s really insulting to the healthcare providers who work hard to save lives,” Thompson said.
She said she started collecting PPE in February when she saw “we were going to be short:”
“I put the word out and started buying N95 masks in boxes from the backs of cars that would come to my house late at night. I felt like a space alien when I’d go outside in full PPE and buy goods from the backs of cars, and then donate them out to hospitals nationwide the next day.”
The Women in White, mostly nurses and paramedics, were planning to drive around Miami July 4th weekend with thousands of N95 masks to give out where they find large groups of people together not wearing masks.
Third Wave Volunteers, a nonprofit organization with over 30,000 first responders and volunteers worldwide, has been serving communities and countries globally through natural disasters and several zoonotic disease outbreaks including cholera and ebola, as well as the Syrian and Venezuelan refugee crisis, and now the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Thompson, a full-time humanitarian volunteer, has run large refugee camps, field hospitals and resilience hubs all over the world for the past 21 years.
“The journey to make a difference for the frontline began with the ‘Women in White Campaign,’ a play on words for the movie ‘Men In Black’ with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones fighting physical alien beings,” she said.
“Juxtaposed to today’s real-life scenario featuring women clad in white hazardous material gear standing in the gap with the fight against this invisible and deadly alien virus responsible for claiming over 507,000 lives worldwide with over 129,000 alone in the U.S.
“The white color, intentionally chosen, symbolizes cleanliness and purity from disease. Because clean hands save lives, the Women in White personify staying clean from the virus. They represent the long history of Women in White campaigns helping combat many life issues.”
To learn more, and to contribute, visit www.thirdwavevolunteers.com where you can also watch Thompson in her 2015 TEDex Coconut Grove talk.
If you have news for this column, write to ChristinaMMayo@gmail.com.