NORTH HALEDON, NJ – Marisa Fusaro, an Italian teacher at Hawthorne High School of ten years, makes her home in neighboring North Haledon with her husband and young son.  Between juggling the demands of an unprecedented remote-teaching experience and taking care of her toddler, she has managed to also raise money and distribute masks and protective face shields to healthcare workers knee-deep in the battle against COVID-19.

Her endeavor began towards the end of March.  “I just felt I was staying home and being safe, flattening the curve, I wanted to do something.  I wanted to contribute in some way and I had access to these products.”  Fusaro said her friend is a respiratory nurse and she has a cousin who is a nurse in Hackensack.

“Since the COVID crisis began,” she told TAPinto Hawthorne, “I have been running a fundraiser to purchase and distribute PPE for front-liners, primarily healthcare workers and first responders.  I am focusing mainly on face masks, both surgical (disposable) and washable cloth masks.  I am also purchasing face shields for those dealing directly with COVID patients.”

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Italy was the first country in Europe to feel the devastating effects of the coronavirus, where hospitals, particularly in northern Lombardy, were overwhelmed.  Critical shortages of personal protective equipment and ventilators pushed the Italian hospital system to the brink and extreme measures, such as graduating medical students early to free up more doctors, were put into place.  The country was placed under a highly restrictive lockdown—far more so than the United States—and is only now starting to consider easing restrictions.  “The fact that I teach Italian and have so much contact with Italy, I started paying attention to the situation over there as it began sooner than it did here, so I have been thinking about COVID-19 and the challenges in facing it since back in February.  I also was supposed to bring a group of Seniors from the high school on a trip over Spring Break to Italy, but that obviously didn't work out.”

At the time of this writing, Fusaro’s GoFundMe page has amassed $4,500 out of a $7,500 goal.  She first began raising money by putting it out on her Facebook and contacting her fellow teachers.  “It got a lot of people.  I asked if anyone knows people who need it.”

The North Haledon Police Department was among the first to receive a donation of masks--all in matching blue.

Her brother’s company, which is based in Paterson, makes up the cloth masks at cost and she distributes them as needed.  “I started giving them to those not directly working with COVID patients,” she said.  Then, hospital staff said they could use the cloth masks to go over their N95 masks, extending their usefulness.  Fusaro recounted how some nurses were being given one N95 mask and one cloth mask for a 12 hour shift.  “Every bit helps.”

The masks produced by her brother are “washable masks that are treated with Silvadur antimicrobial solution”. 

Fusaro said she has also been able to donate face shields to hospitals and the volunteers working at the Passaic County Testing Site at William Paterson University, where those individuals with prescriptions for testing can make use of a drive-up service.  Other recipients of the protective equipment are St. Joseph’s in Wayne and Paterson, Hackensack Valley, Morristown Hospital, Holy Name, Clara Maass Medical Center, and Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York.

When asked how she manages to balance all her responsibilities, Fusaro said, “It’s been interesting for sure.  I do things while my son naps.  I wake up thinking about masks constantly.  I just feel like it’s a passion now, it’s so critical and I want to do as much as I can.”

As an educator, Fusaro hopes that her efforts will also send a message, particularly with kids.  “Teaching a foreign language and running a fundraiser like this are not that much different from each other.  In one sense I am helping students make a personal connection with a culture, a language, and a population that is different from their own, which helps them have compassion for their fellow human beings and become better global citizens.   In the other capacity I am doing kind of the same thing, just a little bit closer to home, but the underlying empathy is the same.  I truly believe we are all in this together.”

Click to visit Fusaro’s GoFundMe page, Face Masks for Frontline Workers.


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