With supply chain strained amid coronavirus outbreak, donation drive held outside United Center to collect medical equipment

“We’ve been flooded with requests locally from first responders, nursing homes, health care providers, hospitals,” Beth Rottman of Project C.U.R.E., a nonprofit that typically sends medical supplies to other countries.

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A volunteer moves a box of medical supplies during a donation drive outside the United Center on Sunday March 29, 2020.

Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

As medical supplies vital for treating COVID-19 patients have fallen in short supply, a nonprofit that typically sends medical equipment to other countries hosted a donation drive Sunday outside the United Center seeking masks, protective eyewear, gloves and other gear for health care workers fighting the virus in the United States.

Project C.U.R.E., a Colorado-based non-governmental organization with a warehouse in Woodridge, shifted its focus to the needs of domestic health care workers about two weeks ago, according to Beth Rottman, executive director of the nonprofit’s Chicago office.

Shortly after the drive kicked off Sunday in Chicago, a stream of cars pulled into the parking and drivers handed off boxes and equipment to waiting volunteers.

“In about 20 minutes, we put together almost a palette,” said Rottman, who noted the organization has organized similar drives in other parts of the country, including another event Sunday in Nashville.

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Volunteers grab boxes of medical supplies from an SUV outside the United Center on Sunday March, 29, 2020.

Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

“We’ve been flooded with requests locally from first responders, nursing homes, health care providers, hospitals,” she said. “We know a lot of people are doing PPE drives, but if we can collect one box of gloves, that’s one box of gloves that we didn’t have before.”

All five major Chicago sports teams helped promote Sunday’s supply drive in the shadow of the United Center, which went dark after concerts and the NBA and NHL seasons were suspended in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Before shifting its focus to the United States, Project C.U.R.E. had been sending equipment to other countries that have been hit hard by the deadly virus. In January, as COVID-19 was spreading rapidly throughout China, Project C.U.R.E.’s Woodridge warehouse shipped 120,000 N95 masks to the country’s epicenter in Wuhan.

Those sought-after masks, which filter out 95% of airborne particles, have been at the center of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s feud with President Donald Trump.

After a string of national TV appearances in which Pritzker criticized the president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic — and a couple of Twitter tirades — the White House last Monday vowed to send Illinois 300 ventilators and 250,000 N95 masks. Donations and deals with private companies have also helped bolster the state’s supply as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to rise.

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