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staff in protective equipment take information from person in car
UNC medical staff working the diagnostic testing site on campus.

Kathy James was watching the evening news a week or so ago when she saw a story about people in Winston-Salem who were organizing to bring food to local hospital staff fighting Covid-19. We need to do something like that for our people, she thought. James is an administrative coordinator at UNC’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases. For 25 years she has worked alongside the men and women who are now fighting the pandemic as clinicians and researchers.

One of those frontline efforts is a diagnostic testing site that was built nearly overnight in the parking lot of UNC Health’s Ambulatory Care Center. In a maze of tents, trailers, and security fencing, some 35-40 doctors, nurses, medical assistants, physical therapists and other clinical professionals from medicine, surgery, family medicine, neurology and other units work from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., taking histories and swabbing the noses of 80 to 130 people a day.

“Our biggest challenge is working outside,” says the Institute’s David Wohl, MD, one of the doctors leading the testing effort. “In the past month we’ve needed to buy or rent heaters and fans. We’ve had our tents blown away (by gale-force winds) and we’ve worked in blazing sun…and of course in rain.”

kathy james headshot
Kathy James

For the first week of testing, James arranged for a daily donation of urns of coffee from Panera, one of the area restaurants she has worked with over the years to cater Institute events. The next week she thought she had lined up a donation of 40 box lunches from another area restaurant, but they chose a different recipient. She had told Wohl of the possible donation; he was disappointed to hear it fell through.

“The gift of food and coffee means more than a yummy meal or a warm cup to start the day,” he says. “It shows us that we are not alone in our mini tent city, that people know we are out here dealing with the elements in our scrubs and masks and face shields. It makes us feel appreciated.”

So James went to work. She created a GoFundMe account and wrote an appeal for donations. It’s a win-win, as she explains, supporting area restaurants that are struggling while feeding her UNC colleagues working the testing site. She’s not terribly confident about her writing skills so she enlisted her sister, Kristy Wilson, who was recently laid off from her job in Pennsylvania, to edit her pitch. James set a goal of $30,000. After four days, she’s raised $2,250 from 32 donors.

James says she decided to pitch in because she has never seen anything like the Covid-19 pandemic in her decades at the Institute. “I’ve been through a lot, through SARS and Zika and everything else since 1995. But we’ve never shut down the University before.”


Visit 'Feed Covid Strong' gofundme page