After reading an article about University Hospital nurses and their emotional journeys during the pandemic, as well as a recent Cavalier Daily article that interviewed University Hospital healthcare workers, two sibling alumni were moved by the difficulties faced by healthcare staff and were inspired to help them. Class of 2017 alumna Kimberly Levinstein and Class of 2014 alumnus Brian Levinstein have been raising funds since early February to provide food and drinks to University Hospital healthcare staffers. They were joined shortly afterwards by Karen Fink, Broadus Wood Elementary School guidance counselor and a family friend of the Levinsteins. Fink decided to join the fundraising initiative after receiving an email sent by Levinsteins to their friends and family about their plan to show gratitude to the University Hospital workers.
Initially, the Levinsteins reached out to Katie Kline, a pediatric ICU nurse at the University Hospital whom they have known since childhood, in order to learn more about how they could help. After speaking to Kline and several other frontline healthcare workers, the Levinsteins understood that the extent of the physical and emotional strain of the coronavirus on the healthcare system was much worse than they previously realized.
“[We] learned that the COVID-19 problem was so tremendous and growing at [the] U.Va. hospital that two additional floors have been converted to COVID-19 units,” Mark Levinstein, Class of 1979 alum and father to the Levinstein siblings, said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Three floors in the U.Va. hospital South Tower [alone] had to be dedicated to the COVID-19 patients.”
Initially, Kimberly and Brian pooled together just over $500 from family and friends in order to purchase a Keurig coffee machine and 500 K-Cups as a way to show their appreciation for the nurses and hospital staff, which Kline was then able to deliver to the University Hospital’s COVID-19 unit lounges. On Feb. 17, the four coordinated with friends and families to pool $1284.41 together and deliver 112 individually-wrapped Roots bowls, enough for every healthcare worker at the University Hospital’s three COVID-19 units on that day’s morning and night shifts.
Following these successful initiatives, the siblings created a GoFundMe page with Kline and Fink on Feb. 16, forwarding the link through email to fellow University alumni and friends in order to continue raising monetary support. By Feb. 28, the group was able to purchase another Keurig machine, over 350 K-Cups and various individually-wrapped nutrition bars and snacks, which were delivered to the COVID-19 unit lounges Thursday. Currently, the team is in conversation with Bodo’s Bagels and trying to figure out ways to deliver bagels in an individually-wrapped way so as to abide by sanitary and health regulations.
“It was wonderful to wheel the big bags of food down the hallway and encourage staff to come claim a bowl for themselves,” Kline said. “Witnessing obvious smiles unravel from beneath their masks and the lightness in their eyes was enough for me to know we brought them a little relief.”
For Kline, her own personal experience as a nurse served as inspiration for getting involved with the fundraising project. Due to first-hand experiencing the mental and physical strain of being a healthcare professional during the pandemic, Kline wanted to help create an initiative that would reassure other healthcare workers like herself during this highly stressful and unusual time.
“For me [this] was just a little way to give back to [healthcare workers] — it's just something that can hopefully put a little fuel in their tank and let them know that their story is being heard and that we still really appreciate them,” Kline said. “So it was kind of a no-brainer for me to want to go and do this for them … Just to spread a little bit of joy for them.”
The next goal of this support initiative is to continue raising money from the local Charlottesville community through the same GoFundMe page in order to avoid asking local restaurants to provide contributions during a financially unstable period due to the pandemic. Information about this local effort has been spread primarily through local newsletters and emails.
Fink also organized a personal touch to the fundraising initiative by delivering letters with drawings and words of support made by her students with the goal of uplifting the staff within COVID-19 units at the University hospital. Whether it be donating to the GoFundMe, delivering food and coffee or making artwork and thank you notes, Fink emphasized that anyone can support healthcare workers in a variety of ways.
“It's such a neat, kind of grassroots, community effort,” Fink said. “[The initiative] involves such a modge podge and variety of people ranging from kindergarten students to [individuals in their] mid-to-late 50s.”
Kimberly hopes the healthcare support initiative can continue to provide small pockets of reassurance throughout the next few months of the ongoing pandemic. She hopes this effort will help alleviate the burnout hospital staffers may be feeling and while doing so, send words of affirmation and encouragement during a difficult time.
“I think the idea is that people out here are still caring and thinking about them,” Levinstein said. “People are so tired of COVID-19 that there aren’t people standing outside cheering for healthcare workers that we saw in May and June ... so [the purpose of the initiative is] just to continue to show that staff that we’re thinking of them.”
As community members continue to contribute to this fundraising initiative, Levinstein highlighted how much the Charlottesville community means to her and how, overall, she felt compelled to take the opportunity to show her support for the healthcare workers in the locality.
“Charlottesville is just such a near and dear place for so many of us,” Levinstein said. “Because we love the community, [we want] to be there and rally in a way that is not just about sports or a [University alumni ] reunion but about supporting [members of the community].”