Seattle Jayhawk feeds the front lines

Posted on Jul 1, 2020 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News

Ellen KuwanaIt started as a simple idea: donate pizza to the lab workers processing COVID-19 tests at the University of Washington’s virology labs.

But for Ellen Kuwana, c’92, her plan to utilize her lab experience to safely deliver food to health care workers in her free time continued to grow. A side hustle turned into a full-time commitment on weekends and eventually led Kuwana to quit her full-time job to focus on supporting both front-line workers and local restaurants in the Seattle area.

Kuwana, a freelance science writer, launched We Got This Seattle to spend her workdays coordinating donations, picking up food from Seattle-area businesses, and bringing the food to lab workers and other health care personnel.

The daughter of a KU chemistry professor, Kuwana graduated from the University with a biology degree before earning her master’s degree at UC San Francisco, where she also worked in research labs. Since then, she’s called Seattle home.

How did We Got This Seattle grow from a one-time idea to a full-time job?

“I would not have embarked on this road had I not been a scientist by training. In January and February 2020, I was spending a lot of time on Twitter following science journalists discussing the situation in China and Italy with the novel coronavirus. Most of our friends, in part because my husband is an MD–PhD, are in science or medicine.

I knew UW Virology was working around the clock, literally 24–7 to process the COVID-19 tests, with 80 people per shift. Health care workers are a visible workforce who get recognition for their work, and I felt the lab personnel deserved some recognition for their part in keeping everyone safe. I tweeted out to three local pizza places, asking who wanted to help me send pizzas as a thank you to UW Virology. I got a donation from one within three minutes. I figured that I could deliver the food safer than a random driver because of my lab training. You learn to not touch your face, and to be very aware of what you are touching, as well as how to properly put on and remove protective gear.

With my husband working six days a week in a hospital, I could not completely keep myself safe, so I decided to do some good with an amount of risk that I was qualified to mitigate to the extent possible. I was working two jobs at the time, and delivering food on Friday, Saturday and Sunday when I wasn’t working my main job. 

This was really just me from March 13 to April 4. Then Signe Burke, who works full time at Amazon, contacted me and wanted to help. She’s been a lifesaver and has helped me with fundraising and tracking the eight to 10 deliveries each day. On April 1, I got a little scared for my safety and hired two college students to help me with picking up and delivering food, as a way to lower my personal risk of getting sick. This was out of concern for myself, but also to protect my husband’s well-being as much as possible, as he is an essential worker. 

On April 10, I quit my job, because this effort was taking 40 to 50 hours a week. It was a tough decision in many ways to quit and fill that time with unpaid volunteer work, yet it also felt right. Sometimes you just know. At the same time I was deciding to quit my job, restaurants had closed. So what began as a gesture of appreciation, delivering food, became a lifeline of meals.”

What’s your relationship with the restaurants?

“The first few meals were donated, but as restaurants went takeout-only and offices and the University of Washington closed, revenue was down 80 to 90 percent for most restaurants. I set up a personal Facebook fundraiser and raised $25,000, then found a 501(c)(3) called Open Collective and connected that to the WeGotThisSeattle.co website so that people could make tax-deductible donations with 100 percent of funds going to local restaurants. I find out what front-line sites need, order from one of 65 plus restaurants I’m working with, pick up the food, and deliver it to a point person at a hospital, clinic, firehouse, homeless shelter, ambulance company, etc. I took the same work ethic and sense of professionalism into this volunteer effort as I would into a $1 million-dollar grant-funded research project.

I didn’t set out to do this—it just snowballed and the need was there. Not only did people in hospitals and labs need meals, but also restaurants desperately needed the business. Almost all have given me some kind of discount, and a few have been able to make rent or bring back a few workers because of the support of We Got This Seattle. The journalist in me loves asking questions, which is how I found out that one Thai restaurant that contacted me and donated two meals were $1500 behind on rent! I made it a point to order more meals from this Thai restaurant and got them enough business that they could pay rent on time. It was a win-win. So our mission statement reflects the importance of supporting local restaurants: Our dual mission is to support our front-line workers and local restaurants during times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

And I know it’s meant a lot to the restaurants. One other component of this project is that Seattle has a vibrant Chinatown–International District, and we often go there for food. There are wonderful gift stores and a strong sense of history that you can sense and touch. There have been racist incidents: windows broken, graffiti, business owners threatened. It became important for me to order from many restaurants there as a show of support (and who doesn’t love Chinese food after a long day at work?). Everyone is trying to help each other. Every one of those restaurants has discounted the boxed meals for We Got This Seattle. They suggest other restaurants I should support, if I can. It’s a great community, and I hope everyone weathers this tough time.”

What will you remember from these months?

“There are many stories that will stick with me. An old friend got back in touch with me on Facebook to ask for my help. Her beloved father-in-law, who had been at UW for many years, died from COVID-19 complications, and she wanted to send a meal to the medical team at the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) who took such great care of him. It took quite a bit of coordination and more than 20 emails, but we made it happen.

A woman who was a patient at UWMC contacted me and wanted to bring up snacks (several hundred dollars worth), thank you cards and cookies to thank the medical team, and wanted my help to coordinate a lunch, which I did. She has a cochlear implant, which she could not wear when she was sick. Imagine the fear and vulnerability of being in the ICU with this virus, and it’s hard to communicate with your medical team? She said they went above and beyond (and had to get really close to her face) to communicate with her. It was very important to her and her family to thank them, and they drove in from more than an hour away to do so.”

If you want to help, visit We Got This Seattle’s website to learn more.

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KU Cares: May

Posted on May 31, 2020 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News

Read about Jayhawks who are lending a hand to those in need.

A volunteer army joins COVID-19 battle

As William McNulty helped care for survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, an insight guided him to co-found Team Rubicon: Military veterans—trained in crisis management, experienced at responding calmly under pressure and passionate about service—are ideally suited to fill a gap in disaster-relief efforts around the globe.

Ten years later, with more than 100,000 volunteers in five countries (and with four countries working to launch teams), Team Rubicon faces a global health crisis that calls for different tactics. How does a group known for putting armies of volunteers on the ground contribute to a pandemic response that counts lockdowns and social distancing among its most effective tactics?

Camila Ordóñez Vargas launches campaign to support Colombian community during the pandemic

Camila Ordóñez Vargas

When Camila Ordóñez Vargas, a political science and economics double-major, traveled to spend spring break with her family in her home country of Colombia, she never imagined that she would be unable to return to finish her junior year in Lawrence. Now facing this unexpected new reality, she’s finding ways to help alleviate the impact of the crisis in Colombia as the country grapples with social and economic uncertainties.

KU alumnus makes Jayhawk masks that give back

If you’re looking to mask your Jayhawk pride, John Killen is your guy.

Killen, j’85, is president & CEO of WinCraft, a manufacturer of licensed and promotional products for over 500 colleges and professional sports teams. As COVID-19 continued to spread, the company began to look at how they could help.

2020 KUEC biotechnology grad gets hands-on experience assisting with COVID-19 testing

It’s not unusual for college students to balance their classroom education with real-life learning experience in the workplace, either through a full-time job or an internship. For 23-year-old biotechnology senior Justin Carroll, however, the experience has taken on a different sense of importance in the last few months. For the last four years, Carroll has worked for clinical laboratory company Quest Diagnostics, first in specimen processing and later as a laboratory assistant. Since the Novel Coronavirus outbreak, Carroll has been helping process COVID-19 tests.

KU School of Medicine-Wichita graduate earns Global Scholar honor for work near and far

For Chandra Swanson, M.D., who’ll soon begin her pediatrics residency at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, the effort and experiences she put into earning Global Scholar Distinction helped focus her vision of the work she’ll do as a doctor.

KU Cares: Jayhawks on the Frontlines – Dr. Travis Batts

Travis Batts

Dr. Travis Batts is a board-certified cardiac specialist with a focus on disease prevention, nutrition, fitness optimization and cardiovascular screening in San Antonio, Texas. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Biochemistry from the University of Kansas in 2000 and his medical doctorate (MD) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, before practicing medicine for over 10 years.

He was a letter winner on the men’s track and field team as a Jayhawk from 1996-2000, where he was a sprinter in the Crimson and Blue. He currently serves as Medical Director of the Cardiology clinic at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center.

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KU Cares: April

Posted on Apr 30, 2020 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News

Read about Jayhawks who are lending a hand to those in need.

Alumni pitch in to help Lawrence cope with COVID-19

Danny Caine knows what it’s like to receive a bit of unseasonal holiday spirit. Last year his Raven Book Store benefited when bestselling author Shea Serrano enlisted 300,000 Twitter followers to forgo Amazon Prime Day and instead order books from the small Lawrence shop as a way of supporting striking Amazon warehouse workers. The Raven enjoyed its best day ever for online sales and Caine called the slow-season boost “a bit of Christmas in July.”

So when a wave of closings ordered by state and local authorities began shutting schools, businesses and community organizations across Lawrence in mid-March, it was only natural that Caine, g’17, would be among the KU alumni finding creative ways to bring a bit of normalcy to the city during an unprecedented public health crisis by offering curbside pickup and delivery services.

KU students sell apparel to raise money for Lawrence charities amid COVID-19 pandemic

Three students at the University of Kansas, Grace Roepke, Ibolya Konkoly and Taylor Arneson, created a T-shirt design to raise money for three Lawrence charities to help with the effects of COVID-19. 

From April 2 to 9, the three sold T-shirts, hoodies and crewnecks with a “Take Me to Lawrence” design for people who were missing their city after having to return home for quarantine.

International missions helped prepare doctor for pandemic fight

Before he even attended his first class at the KU School of Medicine, Zach Krumsick had accumulated a world of experience dealing with challenging health issues in difficult circumstances.

The Frontenac native was determined to learn about diverse cultures beyond his small southeast Kansas hometown; during his undergraduate days at Pittsburg State University he completed medical missions to Peru, Belize and Mexico. Craving deeper immersion, he spent a year between undergrad and medical school doing humanitarian work in public health and education in Kenya, helping the “poorest of the poor” in a Nairobi slum manage the AIDS epidemic and take full advantage of support offered by local schools.

McLemore, Embiid support COVID relief efforts

Former Kansas basketball standouts have made pledges to assist their communities in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Ben McLemore, who is in his seventh year in the NBA, currently with the Houston Rockets, is teaming up with C3 International to produce critical N95 respirator masks needed for coronavirus relief efforts.

Kansas City Jayhawk flies for the front lines

On April 21, James Elliott joined a group determined to bring a smile to the faces of those who need it most right now: the health care workers and patients in Lawrence and Kansas City area hospitals.

Thank a hero

Unleash your inner artist, or just relieve a little bit of quarantine-induced stress, with a Jayhawk coloring sheet!

Our latest coloring sheet has another purpose, too: It’s a simple way for Jayhawks everywhere to show their gratitude for those working on the front lines of the pandemic.

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KU alumnus makes Jayhawk masks that give back

Posted on May 14, 2020 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News

John Killen

If you’re looking to mask your Jayhawk pride, John Killen is your guy.

Killen, j’85, is president & CEO of WinCraft, a manufacturer of licensed and promotional products for over 500 colleges and professional sports teams. As COVID-19 continued to spread, the company began to look at how they could help.

“After looking at what was needed, we knew we could produce masks to help,” he says. “We went to KU first to develop the product and the campaign due to our great relationship with the University. The first masks we sold had Jayhawks on them.”

Since then, more than 200 colleges have reached out to produce masks with their school represented on them.

The production of each mask comes with a purpose. A portion of proceeds from each Jayhawk mask will go to the KU COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. In addition, WinCraft donated hundreds of masks to essential KU employees in Facilities, Housing & Dining Services, and Kansas Athletics.

 

“Wincraft is a private company and likes to give back,” Killen says. “We asked KU for a charitable component, and they suggested donations for the [COVID Relief] fund. The response has already been overwhelming, with thousands already sold.”

The machine-washable masks are available for sale at KU Bookstore and Rally House. Please note that the masks are not intended to be used as medical grade Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE.

—Ryan Camenzind

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Thank a hero

Posted on Apr 30, 2020 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News

Thank you to all our heroes saving lives

Unleash your inner artist, or just relieve a little bit of quarantine-induced stress, with a Jayhawk coloring sheet!

Our latest coloring sheet has another purpose, too: It’s a simple way for Jayhawks everywhere to show their gratitude for those working on the front lines of the pandemic.

After you download and color your own, here are a few ideas for what to do with it:

  • Hang it in your window
  • Snail mail or email it to your favorite hero
  • Post it on social media (be sure to tag us!)

Not in the mood to color your own? That’s OK— we’ve included a full-color version you can simply print.

Thank you and Rock Chalk to all the heroes saving lives!

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Twin Cities show ‘KU Cares’ with spooky supply drive

Posted on Dec 10, 2019 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News

KU Cares Twin Cities supply drive

The third annual KU Cares Month of Service brought Jayhawks closer to the communities they call home. One of our favorite events comes from the Twin Cities Jayhawks.

When your doorbell rings on Halloween, you’re expected to answer with candy in hand. But when the Pence family shows up, it’s time to hit the pantry.

Stacy, c’10, and her husband Tyler, d’11, have spent their Halloween evenings for the past six years going door to door in their Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. Instead of candy, they collect donations for the St. Louis Park Emergency Program, which provides food, clothing and other assistance for those in need.

“My husband and I did the first trick or treat supply drive only on our block to meet neighbors and help a good cause,” Stacy says. “It was so popular that we decided to make it an entire neighborhood effort the following year.”

The scope of the night continued to grow the past two years as the all-call went out to other Jayhawks to help out as part of the KU Cares Month of Service.

“Generally, it is very well received,” Stacy says. “So many thank yous! Flyers are given to every home in advance so many people are ready with bags of donations. Others are surprised when an adult is knocking on their door on Halloween, but when we explain our cause they run to their kitchen to get something.”

As for the results? They’re spook-tacular:

“I couldn’t count the items as there are literally thousands that fill our entire living room. This year 1,705 pounds were donated, which brings our to-date total over 11,500. Pretty insane.”

Thanks again to all Jayhawks who participated in the third annual KU Cares Month of Service. Jayhawks can make a difference in their community anytime. Visit kualumni.org/info-for/volunteer to learn how you can organize a KU Cares event in your network.

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Jayhawks give back during second annual KU Cares Month of Service

Posted on Dec 3, 2018 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News

The second annual KU Cares Month of Service gave Jayhawks the chance to meet each other and support their communities at the same time. Alumni in 23 cities across the country organized 27 different events.

The KU Alumni Association set out to have participants share the spirit of the holidays by giving back to people in need.

Here’s a sample of the many awesome events that alumni network volunteers organized. Thanks again to all who participated!

Phoenix Jayhawks: Lunches for the homeless

KU alumni in Phoenix packed meals for people in need at St. Vincent De Paul’s “Hearts and Hands” event.

Phoenix volunteers | second annual KU Cares month of service

Twin Cities Jayhawks: Halloween Supply Drive

Minneapolis Jayhawks started the month of service a day early: a night early, to be exact. They partnered with the St. Louis Park Emergency Program to spend their Halloween forgoing candy and collecting supplies for a local homeless shelter instead.

Twin Cities Jayhawks | second annual KU Cares month of service

Portland Jayhawks: Oregon Food Bank

A small group made a big difference in Portland. Six Jayhawks showed their love for their city with two and a half hours of work leading to 455 packaged meals.

Portland Jayhawks |second annual KU Cares month of servicePortland Jayhawks | second annual KU Cares month of service

Milwaukee Jayhawks: Breakfast for military families

Area Jayhawks got to work to thank area veterans and their families by cooking breakfast at the the Fisher House, a temporary housing option for military families. Families stay at the house while their loved one receives care at the Medical Center.

Milwaukee Jayhawks | second annual KU Cares month of service

Denver Jayhawks: Watch party with a purpose

Local alumni started their watch party season with a purpose. The group collected more than 500 items for the St. Francis Center, a local homeless refuge.
Denver Jayhawks | second annual KU Cares month of service

KU Cares Month of Service may be over, but Jayhawks can get together to support their communities anytime! Visit the KU Cares page for more information, and reach out to your local network leaders to organize an event in your area.

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Jayhawks give back during inaugural KU Cares Month of Service

Posted on Dec 20, 2017 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News

KU Cares Month of Service
After 19 different events in 16 different cities, the first KU Cares Month of Service brought Jayhawks closer to the communities they call home.

The KU Alumni Association set out to have participants in the Month of Service share the spirit of Thanksgiving by giving back, both in their networks and in the KU community.

A portion of all membership dues collected during the month of November was earmarked for the Wounded Warrior scholarship fund. Thanks to the generosity of those who joined, renewed, or donated, more than $5,500 will be given to the scholarship fund that helps qualified veterans and their family pursue their education at KU.

Continuing on the theme of an earlier post, we wanted to highlight some of the events where Jayhawks made a difference.

Wichita: Ronald McDonald House

Members of the Wichita Jayhawk Network came together to help those staying in the Ronald McDonald house. Volunteers brought, prepared and served dinner to the families with children in nearby hospitals.

Milwaukee: Fill the Freezer

Local KU alumni joined forces with the United Way to fight hunger at the first annual “Fill the Freezer” event. Network leader Jay Craig, b’85 g’87, brought area Jayhawk volunteers together with local chefs to prepare frozen meals for those in transitional housing and family support programs.

Phoenix: St. Vincent De Paul’s Watkins Kitchen

More than 15 Jayhawks gave their Saturday morning to prepare meals for the homeless at St. Vincent De Paul’s Watkins Kitchen. Phoenix Network Leader Chris Colyer, b’04 l’09, thanked everyone for representing KU and showing compassion for their community.

San Antonio: Haven for Hope

Area alumni put on their Jayhawk gear, along with aprons and gloves, and served food to those in need in downtown San Antonio. Network leader Morgan Bertram, d’02, thanked those who helped feed 383 at Haven for Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the homeless find a new beginning.

While the KU Cares Month of Service is over, Jayhawks can get together to give time and talents to their communities anytime! Visit the KU Cares page for more information, and reach out to your local network leaders. View our Flickr album of these events and more from the KU Cares Month of Service:

Seattle

-Ryan Camenzind

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From Feeding America to Friends of Trees: The KU Cares Month of Service begins

Posted on Nov 21, 2017 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News

As the KU Cares Month of Service continues, the pictures and stories from the events are rolling in. We’re sharing a few from the first events to show how Jayhawks are making a difference in their communities. Visit the KU Cares Month of Service homepage to learn how you can participate in giving back to those in need.

Portland: Friends of Trees

The Portland Jayhawks joined forces with other volunteers on a misty Saturday afternoon to plant more than 200 trees in southeast Portland. Network volunteer Meg Viezbicke, c’97, organized the event and praised Friends of Trees for helping ensure the Jayhawks could be involved. Friends of Trees, a local nonprofit, aims to to inspire community stewardship of the area’s urban forest by planting and caring for trees in both neighborhoods and green spaces.

Seattle: Food Lifeline

Network volunteer Deanna Marks, b’16 e’16, brought together 10 Seattle Jayhawks who donned aprons and hairnets over their KU gear and packed 1,420 meals for their community at Food Lifeline, a nonprofit that provides meals to residents of Western Washington. Food Lifeline is a member of Feeding America, a nationwide network of over 200 food banks.

Tampa Bay: Feeding America

The Tampa Bay ’Hawks also partnered with Feeding America by collecting over 100 pounds of food. Network leader Chris Longino, b’06, thanked those who brought donations to their watch site for football and basketball watch parties. “I am always impressed with the generosity and goodwill of the Jayhawk Nation,” Longino said. “Hopefully, we can plan many future opportunities for our KU group to give back to our adopted Tampa Bay community.”

San Diego: Sunset Cliffs beach cleanup

San Diego Jayhawks spent a Saturday morning by the ocean, but instead of lounging in the sun they opted to beautify the beach. Network volunteer Stephanie Shehi, b’86, partnered with the San Diego Coastkeeper organization, which helps keep Sunset Cliffs Park clean and beautiful for the community. The network picked up 20 pounds of trash, enjoyed stunning views, and heard lots of “Rock Chalks” from bystanders.

The easiest way to participate in the KU Cares Month of Service is to join or renew your Alumni Association membership. During the month of November, a portion of all dues will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Scholarship Fund. Join, renew, or upgrade your membership to participate in this initiative!

-Ryan Camenzind

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KU Alumni Association launches KU Cares Month of Service

Posted on Sep 12, 2017 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News

KU Cares Month of Service

The KU Alumni Association is proud to announce a new campaign this November for networks to give back to their communities. The KU Cares Month of Service will invite networks nationwide to showcase their pride for their alma mater and their cities by volunteering their time and talents in philanthropic events.

“Whether that be volunteering at a soup kitchen, doing a canned food drive, or a public area clean-up, this will be a great way to rally Jayhawks around causes that will benefit their communities,” said Danny Woods, assistant director of legacy and alumni programs.

Other ways to participate in KU Cares

In addition to the volunteer events across national and local networks, if Jayhawks join, renew or upgrade their membership during the month of November a portion of their dues will go to a campus charity.

“Volunteerism is something that KU alumni are passionate about and already doing across the nation, but what excites me the most is giving alumni an avenue to amplify what they are already doing,” Woods said.

Visit the KU Cares Month of Service website to learn more about KU Cares, the Month of Service, and how you can join.

Network volunteers are invited to fill out the Service Project Request form to have a service project added to the Alumni Association’s event calendar and promoted to alumni in the area.

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