Fairfield University Responds to Community Needs Amid Health Crisis

Fairfield, Connecticut — When the Connecticut Food Bank recently reached out to Fairfield University for a donation, they intended to collect a monetary one. Director of Alumni Relations Janet Canepa ’82 received the call and consulted with Assistant Vice President Jim Fitzpatrick ’70, M’72, P’08 and Fairfield’s General Manager of Dining Services, Duane Gornicki.

Gornicki oversees the University’s emergency food supply, which has to be rotated continuously, and consists of three days-worth of food — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — for 3,000 students who typically live on campus.

“When the semester came to an abrupt halt, I had no place to utilize it. We have a lot of expirations that were coming up in May, June, July and we were going to lose the food. This was an opportunity to help.”

At a time when the global pandemic has hit Connecticut hard, food insecurity for those in need has significantly escalated. Statewide, many food banks have been trying to keep up with an increase in demand for supplies, to provide food not only for individuals and families who were receiving items prior to the COVID-19 health crisis, but for new clients as well.

Gornicki suggested that Fairfield donate its emergency food supply, and was immediately directed by the Connecticut Food Bank to contact a volunteer coordinator at Columbus House in New Haven. “It’s a significant amount of food,” Gornicki said. “She was so moved, she just broke down and cried.”

Nine Columbus House facilities located throughout New Haven County will benefit from approximately $60,000 worth of food items. Fairfield has also continued its long-standing tradition of preparing and delivering meals to Prospect House in Bridgeport every Friday and Sunday, and will have sandwiches delivered weekly to the COVID-19 unit at Bridgeport Hospital.

The Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies’ alumni, students, and faculty are serving on the front lines in a variety of health care settings in many communities. The Egan School has donated personal protective equipment and supplies to area health care facilities. Dean Meredith Kazer, PhD, APRN, FAAN said, “We’ve received numerous requests from our clinical partners and are responding to this pandemic with all available school resources.”

As health care workers and hospitals are overwhelmed by the lack of critical personal protective equipment needed to safely tend to ill patients, faculty and staff from the Biology and Chemistry departments, including Molecular Lab Supervisor Lenka Biardi, Associate Professor Jim Biardi, PhD, and Chemistry Lab Manager Dorothy Sobczynski, PhD have collected many lab supplies: exam gloves, N95 respirators and masks, biohazard disposable bags, hand sanitizer, syringes, and needles.

“These supplies come from departmental lab stocks, as well as on-going donations from many individual faculty research labs,” said Professor Shelley Phelan, PhD, chair of Biology, “and are being donated to local hospitals and organizations in conjunction with coordinated efforts by the College of Art and Sciences dean’s office.” Biology Lab Coordinator Chris Hetherington and Associate Professor Shannon Gerry, PhD collected supplies that were donated to N.Y. Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

“Fairfield will continue to reach out and respond to community needs as they arise during this global pandemic,” said Vice President, Marketing and Communications Jennifer Anderson ’97, MBA’02. “Fairfield has been contacted by Enterprise Rental to allow their high volume of rental returns to be parked in University lots, and by the State of Connecticut for use of our Field House and Alumni Hall as hospital overflow spaces. We will work with the State if it is deemed those spaces are needed.”

In addition to feeding our neighbors, helping to equip health care workers, and responding to state and community needs as they arise, the University community has also united in support of one another with a full roster of virtual events to cultivate the Jesuit value of cura personalis or care of the whole person — mind, body, and spirit — including Daily Mass, which is being celebrated and shared virtually on weekdays at 12:10 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m.

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