Teacher starts program to donate disinfectant wipes from classrooms to hospitals

One Florida teacher is determined to help healthcare workers; now her program is going national.
/ Source: TODAY

When one teacher heard that her local hospital needed wipes, her mind immediately went to the disinfectant wipes sitting in her currently empty classroom. Now she's organizing a national drive to get unused school supplies into hospitals that need them.

"One of the moms I spoke with mentioned that she is a nurse and she needed wipes," said Rebecca Talaia, who was making calls to check in with the families of sixth graders she teaches at Indialantic Elementary School in Brevard County, Florida. "Initially I thought she meant for her home, but I quickly realized she meant for the hospital she worked at."

Rebecca Talaia, a sixth grade teacher in Indialantic, Florida, with the first donation of disinfectant wipes she collected from the school where she works.Rebecca Talaia

Talaia, who has been teaching for 23 years, thought of the supply of disinfectant wipes she and her fellow teachers request as part of each student's school supply list at the beginning of the school year, wipes that were sitting untouched in classrooms that may or may not re-open.

"I contacted my principal, Lori Braga, to see if we could gather disinfectant wipes from our classrooms, and she supported me 100%," said Talaia, who has a 12-year-old daughter and twin 10-year-old sons. "The teachers in my school readily shared where their wipes were located so we could collect them and supply them to the unit where the student whose mom I spoke with works."

Nurses at Health First Community Hospitals were so grateful to receive Talaia's initial donation of disinfectant wipes that she reached out to her local school board to enlist more schools to donate.Health First Community Hospitals

Talaia says she collected more than 60 canisters of disinfectant wipes to donate, explaining that teachers request one canister of wipes per student at the beginning of the year so they can clean desks, laptop computers and other areas of their classrooms.

Motivated to organize the entire school district to do something similar, Talaia reached out to Tina Descovich, her local representative in the school district, for help. Descovich brought the idea to the school district superintendent, who helped orchestrate a delivery of more than 600 canisters of disinfectant wipes to Health First Community Hospitals, a health care system that manages four hospitals in addition to outpatient and wellness facilities.

"The idea that Mrs. Talaia came up with is just one glowing example of the types of teachers serving in Brevard Public Schools," said Descovich. "Not only are they working hard to transition from traditional school teachers to virtual school teachers, but they're using what resources they have to help those on the front lines battling COVID-19."

Rebecca Talaia with Ana Sanchez, a representative of Health First's distribution center, and Tina Descovich, a member of the Brevard County, Florida school board.Keith Betterley/Health First Community Hospitals

The most recent wipes donation was delivered to Health First's distribution center on April 13 and will be used by the respiratory isolation units located inside their hospitals. A spokesperson for Health First told TODAY that with the national supply of disinfectant wipes dwindling, their facilities have been running extremely low on wipes. In addition to cleaning surfaces and common areas in the hospitals, the donated wipes will be used for cleaning areas and items that do not require hospital-grade disinfection and giving patients the ability to disinfect their own personal devices brought into the hospitals.

Barbara Seymour is vice president of nursing at Health First Community Hospitals and says her team is grateful for the donation.

"It allows us to continue caring for those coming to us for this critical care," said Seymour.

After helping organize the donation of more than 600 wipes to her local hospital system, Talaia hopes to organize similar donations across the country.Keith Betterley / Keith Betterley/Health First Community Hospitals

To spread the idea nationally, Talaia started From Our Classrooms to Our Nurses: American Schools Care, a website where schools can enter products they have to donate and hospitals can list their needs. At present, Talaia is manually matching requests that come through the website.

"The program matches schools and hospitals within a certain distance of each other and, if the amounts are appropriate, they get matched," Talaia explained of the program created by her neighbor, Jordan Wiens, who wanted to help her cause.

Talaia has already received requests from around the country.

Talaia also recommends checking the nationwide #GetUsPPE website, another resource for finding organizations in need of personal protective equipment.

Talaia with her husband, Gerry, and their children, Hannah, 12, and Mark and Jack, 10.Rebecca Talaia

"Amongst all this sadness and angst, there is still so much joy," said Talaia. "Americans need to do as much as we can to help get needed supplies into the hospitals. We need to protect our healthcare workers because without them, we will perish."

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