Healthy Choices

Sacramento-area groups stock up supplies, food for Ebola-stricken Liberia

Shelley Spurlock is worried about space in her Roseville garage. She’s parking there for now, but every day it becomes more tightly packed with boxes of syringes, lab coats, stethoscopes and latex gloves, all bound for Liberia – the epicenter of West Africa’s raging Ebola virus outbreak.

With the death toll lingering just shy of 3,000 and the region’s stash of medical supplies wearing thin, allies in the Sacramento region are working almost around the clock to collect the needed inventory.

“I’ve been living, breathing, thinking about this every moment,” said Spurlock, founder of the Raise Your Hand Foundation, which works in Liberia to put youth through college. “We know our students. We call them part of our family, and they embrace that. So it’s a real worry to me. Part of my motivation for doing this drive for medical supplies are the large numbers of people that are exposed. This is a big deal.”

By the time Spurlock is done collecting this week,she estimates she’ll have more than 200 boxes of health supplies donated from residents and medical groups including MedShare in San Leandro and Mercy General Hospital in East Sacramento, where she was on Friday picking up 42 boxes of protective gear for caregivers.

Each box will be inventoried, placed on a pallet and loaded into a truck, where it will start its journey to North Carolina. There, it will be merged with a similar haul from the Bernadine Franciscan Sisters of Pennsylvania and the two will fill a 48-by-48-foot shipment container destined for Monrovia, Liberia.

This is the second shipment the Raise Your Hand Foundation has sent. The first went out two weeks ago from a port in New York, with the help of the Salesian Missions, a Catholic order from New Rochelle.

Working with these partners has helped Spurlock navigate a sea of transport fees and paperwork, which she said would be “very costly and very difficult” without someone who knows the process. Once in the Monrovian port, the supplies will be picked up by one of Spurlock’s contacts in the region – a coordinator for the Catholic health system – and distributed to hospitals and clinics as needed.

Spurlock has been building her network in Liberia since she started the Raise Your Hand Foundation in 2007. There are now about 200 Liberian youths whose educations are or were funded by scholarships from the organization. But with the school system shut down during the crisis, Spurlock said the priority is to just keep students alive.

“Some of them are literally starving,” she said. “If we don’t help them survive, then our scholarships mean nothing. We need to get them through to that point when schools reopen.”

The organizer and her fellow volunteers have been able to bulk up the collection with help from the Friends in Jesus International Church, a hub for Sacramento’s roughly 500 Liberians. The church was “jampacked” at its own drive on Aug. 30, where volunteers gathered enough boxes of supplies to fill three 40-by-8-foot storage units, said pastor Tim Wulah, Jr. The boxes have been there since, and will stay there until Oct. 11, when the community gathers to inventory them. Wulah is still working out the details on how to get it all over to his home country.

“We are eager to know what we have, but it’s so labor-intensive,” he said. “It will be all day working until it is done. We really want to get those items shipped out soon.”

Wohma Menyon-King, a registered nurse at Mercy General Hospital and member of Wulah’s congregation, said four of her family members recently died of the Ebola virus in her small hometown of Bokay, Liberia. She reached out to Mercy staff in search of a way to donate supplies, only to find that they were already working with Spurlock.

“I was very happy to find out that Mercy was part of the help,” she said. “It really made me proud to work here. This help goes a long way.”

For Quanuquanei Karmue, founder of Sacramento nonprofit Save More Kids, which aims to feed and house Liberian orphans, the big donation push has been online. Earlier this month, Karmue launched the Save More Kids Challenge, which asks people to donate to the foundation in $10 increments and then make a video nominating three more people to do the same, in the style of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. For each $10 received, Karmue’s organization will donate enough rice and over-the-counter medication to sustain a child for one month.

The rice is already being distributed by contacts in the region, Karmue said, and about 100 people have taken the challenge so far.

In addition to the online campaign, Save More Kids is collecting food and supplies at the Antioch Progressive Baptist Church and at an Oct. 10 prayer vigil in hopes of filling a shipment container to send to Liberia. As of Friday, the church had collected about 800 pounds of rice and a case of syringes and bleach, according to Deacon Curtis Davis.

“We’re trying to reach across borders and just spread that net wide, because we know that the way media works today, the impact of social media is huge,” he said. “The more response, the more impact we can have over in Liberia.”

The Association of Citizens and Friends of Liberia was recently able to send six large suitcases of supplies free of charge thanks to help from Delta Air Lines, said the group’s president, Marwale Washington. They now have about $175,000 worth of donated supplies that they hope to airlift out in the next week or two, she said. Her organization’s collections will go directly to officials in the Foya District of Lofa County, which she said has been especially hard hit by the outbreak.

“All of the community has been very supportive, and it’s very appreciated,” she said. “This Ebola crisis kind of reminds me of the (Liberian) civil war in that all the communities are putting their arms around each other and trying to help as much as possible. Sacramento wants to see something done about this.”