NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - John El-Maraghy saw that the COVID-19 pandemic had brought out the best in many people who want to donate food to pantries and personal protection equipment to health care heroes.

No one was addressing, however, the hand hygiene of the city’s homeless population during a health care crisis where washing your hands is one of the few defenses against the coronavirus.

El-Maraghy , director of Archangel Raphael’s Mission (ARM), a nonprofit working to provide social programs the city’s low-income population, is seeking to help.

Sign Up for New Brunswick Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

ARM rolled out its first mobile handwashing station last week near the United Methodist Church at 323 George St.

ARM’s goal is to set up five more around the city where anyone – but, especially the homeless – can clean their hands.

“I would say if there's any silver lining whatsoever to this crisis is the realization from our middle class folk and our working class folk that access to hygiene is something that can be taken away from you and under normal circumstances there is a significant portion of our residents, of our neighbors that don't have access to regular hygiene services, like something as simple as washing your hands,” El-Maraghy said.

“The big example people have been giving is haircuts. Like we're all trying to give ourselves our own haircut. It’s a service that the homeless population, the underserved, those that don't have the spare cash, they don't, they don't have that option. Luckily, I just shaved my head and summer. But, you know, I think back to times where my hair was it was a little grown out from where I really like to see it, you don't feel particularly good about yourself. And now you multiply that by a couple weeks and you can start to put yourself in the position of someone that doesn't have regular access services like that.”

El-Maraghy cited recent data released by University of Pennsylvania that shows that in cases involving exposure to COVID-19, the homeless have higher rates of hospitalization, critical care and fatality than that of the general population.

ARM has partnered with Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Homeless and Indigent Populations Health Outreach Program (HIPHOP), Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Ethnos New Brunswick, the United Methodist Church at New Brunswick, and  American Reentry Initiative to acquire hand washing apparatus that are typically used for camping and outdoor events.

“It’s a standalone foot powered sink,” El-Maraghy said. “It's got it a four-gallon, clean water reservoir that the user will pump using the pump up through the faucet, wash their hands, and then it gets collected again into a grey water reservoir that our team is actually using the CDC recommendation for sanitation. So, it's an extremely high genic and extremely safe protocol that we've been following.”

He said that the ARM volunteers disinfect the sink after every use.

On the first day, some 20 people stopped and used the handwashing station. They also received a new, hand-sewn mask and a pair of Bombas socks.

“The guests were elated that the service was there,” El-Maraghy said. “A bunch of people were saying to us, ‘Finally.’ Our own hygiene access has been hampered. Their hygiene access has been kneecapped with very few exceptions, without any form of hygiene access, handwashing or otherwise.”

Visit ARM’s website to sign up to volunteer or to donate.