When the Covid-19 pandemic flipped the world on its head, everyone was in danger and everyone struggled, some more than others.

 “We heard the stories of health care providers running out of PPE (personal protective equipment) using trash bags, reusing supplies, and making their own masks,” said Alexandra McKay, a Rasmuson Foundation vice president. 

It wasn’t just those on the health care frontlines who needed PPE. The situation was also dire in remote Alaska villages, where many homes lack running water and store shelves go bare even in normal times. Lack of access to masks, gloves and household cleaning supplies could be life-threatening, especially to village elders, many of whom lost ancestors to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19.

The Foundation responded by leading a new, $1.4 million, multi-agency collaboration to bring vital PPE and other basic supplies to Alaska nonprofits, communities, and caregivers. 

The Alaska PPE Resource Links Project began by surveying the needs of more than 350 service providers, those working in healthcare, behavioral health, senior/elder care, food distribution, disability caregivers, domestic violence prevention, sexual assault intervention, childcare, afterschool programs and more.

With needs document, funding secured and supplies both donated and procured, the project then supplied those in the field with masks, gloves, face shields, safety eyewear, thermometers, disposable gowns, shoe covers and caps. Boxes of needed and in-demand supplies went to some 150 organizations providing services to some 20,000 Alaskans.

More than 2,250 households in 36 remote communities without water and sewer service received a free kit that included a hand-washing basin, paper towels, soap, sponges, dishwashing liquid, disinfecting wipes, spray disinfectant, rubber gloves, cloth face masks, hand lotion and even a Swiffer floor cleaning system — essentials to keeping a home clean and safe during COVID outbreaks. 

Partners included the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, The Alaska Community Foundation, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Christian Health Associates/Alaska Medical Missions, Denali Commission and University of Alaska Anchorage College of Health. Nome-based Alaska Native leader Ukallaysaaq Okleasik served as a Foundation senior fellow to help address the problem.

Other supporters were from the State of Alaska Emergency Operations Center, Alaska voluntary organizations active in disaster (VOAD), Adventist Community Services and specialized relief nonprofits: the C19 Coalition, Get Us PPE, Restart US, SmartAID and HumanKind Now.

The support of shippers such as Matson and Lynden was also key to the project’s success. As was Christian Health Associates — an Anchorage-based, nonprofit health agency and, in non-COVID times, international medical mission —which turned almost the entirety of its 2,700-square-foot warehouse in South Anchorage over to the PPE project. 

All told, the program distributed more than 2.5 million units of PPE and supplies to Alaskans.