Griffins Give Back: How the MMC Community Has Helped Battle COVID-19

Members of the Marymount Manhattan College family are dedicating time and resources to their own communities in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Read some of their stories below.

Homemade face masks by Halinka. Homemade face masks by Halinka.Despite the empty rooms of MMC’s 55th Street Residence Hall, Residence Director Brittany Halinka has maintained a busy schedule. Last weekend, she donated over 50 hand-sewn masks to the nursing staff at Weill Cornell Medical Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and doesn’t foresee stopping anytime soon. She even filmed a short video tutorial for anyone interested in creating their own! Check it out here.

On his last day on campus before the College transitioned to remote operations, Mondo Morales ’12, MMC Dance department’s Costume Coordinator and Wardrobe Supervisor, made sure to grab his personal supplies, knowing that his background in costume design could come in handy in the weeks ahead. After learning that his brother in Seattle was exposed to the virus, Morales began making masks for his family. After posting his creations on social media, requests started pouring in from friends, loved ones, and organizations in need. Morales has since donated nearly a hundred masks to nursing homes and medical facilities in the area, including NYU Langone. Recently, Morales was contacted by the non-profit organization Backpacks for the Street, a grassroots charity working to provide necessities to homeless individuals, a population deeply vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. The latest backpacks being distributed across the city contain masks made by Morales, who described the photos of people receiving his masks “powerfully striking”.

Mondo Morales ?12 and fiancé Kyle, sporting homemade masks made by Morales. Mondo Morales ’12 and fiancé Kyle, sporting homemade masks made by Morales.His latest project is helping to construct hospital gowns for healthcare professionals through Open Jar Studios’ Broadway Relief Project (BRP). Now a make-shift factory, BRP has brought together hundreds from the Broadway community to donate, organize, build, and distribute masks and hospital gowns for healthcare professionals. “If you have a skill, you have to do something with it,” says Morales. “Even if you can’t create personal protective gear, there are still ways to give back. The smallest of things are just as impactful as making masks. Check in on your friends, your neighbors, family, the elderly. That is helpful.”

Veith in front of donated fabric for the Broadway Relief Project through Open Jar Studios. Veith in front of donated fabric for the Broadway Relief Project through Open Jar Studios.MMC alumnus Brian Veith ’09 has also been assisting with a number of projects to support those battling the disease. At first, he helped distribute meals to the elderly through CityMeals on Wheels and took part in building the COVID-19 field hospital in Central Park. Incidentally, he is now working alongside Morales with the Broadway Relief Project, helping organize and create the “kits” that are distributed to stitchers to sew together. “I needed some human interaction, and to be doing something positive with my time,” says Veith, who has been living alone during the shutdown. “I wasn’t feeling motivated or finding purpose in projects around the house. I was going a bit stir crazy.” Veith joined BRP as the organization began creating hospital gowns in addition to face masks. The quick-growing team is working to fill orders for 50,000 masks and 35,000 gowns for frontline workers across the state. 

When Lorraine Ruggieri, Learning Specialist and Academic Coach for MMC’s Academic Access Program, heard the call for mental health counselors for the NYS COVID-19 emotional support helpline, she responded immediately. “It was a no brainer,” Ruggieri says. “I am a licensed social worker and part of the ethics of my profession is to respond to a need for help.” She filled out three separate applications to make sure that she would be called, and completed a two-part online training program and post-training exam to become certified as a COVID-19 counselor. She now remains on standby as a counselor for the NYC helpline, as well as other regional helplines, to provide support for those in need, as the pandemic has considerably increased the likelihood of people suffering from emotional disturbances, depression, bereavement, fear, anxiety, isolation, and PTSD, both in our current situation and its eventual aftermath. In addition, Ruggieri has been a group facilitator for support groups for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia for the past 28 years. In recent weeks, she has participated in multiple workshops to improve on her tele-mental health practices in this virtual environment, as well as develop additional methods for self-care and interventions. She continues to run the support group meetings virtually and now also provides pro bono counseling for caregivers and the bereaved in her free time. 

Note to BHCP and TCP Students Note to BHCP and TCP StudentsOn our virtual campus, MMC students, faculty, and staff are connecting to provide support and encouragement to some of the most vulnerable and isolated members of our own community—the incarcerated students of the Bedford Hills and Taconic College Programs (BHCP and TCP). In a project initiated by Erin Greenwell, MFA, Associate Professor of Communication and Media Arts, MMC students, faculty, and staff have made it a weekly tradition to send a compilation of well-wishes to BHCP and TCP students to be delivered with their coursework and assignments. “It is such a morale booster,” says Aileen Baumgartner, Director of the BHCP. “This small gesture is of tremendous help to these students.” Read the full story here and learn about how to participate in the initiative.

Whether it’s donating time, energy, kindness, sewing prowess, or all of the above, Griffins are giving back in a wide variety of creative and compassionate ways. During a difficult time, we’re proud to see so many in the MMC community doing their part to make a difference. 

Do you have a story about giving back during the pandemic? Let us know at!