Protecting those who protect the community

By Paul Rhien

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Sandia engineer helps lead effort to make face shields, collect and distribute PPE

volunteers pack vehicle with PPE donations
PPE DELIVERY — From left, Wei Liu and Gina Li join Sandia engineer Helena Jin to deliver personal protective equipment donated by the Tri-Valley Chinese American Community volunteer group to help address the shortage of supplies available to healthcare workers in the area. (Photos courtesy of Helena Jin)

When Sandia/California mechanical engineer Helena Jin saw news of doctors and nurses having to fight COVID-19 without adequate protection, she described feeling shocked and saddened. Extreme shortages of personal protective equipment have posed large challenges to the U.S. healthcare system during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I knew that I had to do something and had to do it quickly,” Helena said.

While talking with other members of the Tri-Valley Chinese American Community volunteer group, she learned that many had similar concerns and were anxious to help meet this critical need.

The group quickly launched an initiative to provide local hospitals and essential businesses with donated masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, disinfectants and other essential products.

“We knew how devastating and frightening it must be to fight the virus without proper protection,” Helena said.

Building synergy

In March, the volunteer group began collecting financial and in-kind donations, adopting the slogan “Alone we can do so little. Together, we can do so much!” Using their connections, many donors contacted family and friends overseas and had them ship PPE directly from China. Others gave generously of their time and resources.

Together, the group has secured and distributed more than 43,000 items of PPE to hospitals and clinics, nursing homes, senior centers, post offices, fire stations, food kitchens and other essential businesses in California communities from Livermore and Modesto to Oakland and Santa Clara.

“I am moved by the trust and good deeds from our community,” Helena said. “These small acts of kindness, when multiplied by hundreds of people, have gone a long way in helping protect our communities.”

Applied engineering

Helena Jin and her children assemble face shields
FAMILY MATTER — Sandia engineer Helena Jin, center, gets a helping hand from her children, Kacie, left, and Jason, assembling face shields for donation to northern California healthcare workers. Helena is leading a group of students to hand-make or 3D print reusable and environmentally friendly face shields.

Beyond collecting PPE donations, Helena also is using her engineering skills and experience from Sandia to lead a group of area middle and high school students to hand-make or 3D print reusable and environmentally friendly face shields. She has improved the design and functionality to make the frames more durable, easy to use and 3D-printer friendly.

“It is a great feeling to be able to transfer the knowledge that I accumulated at Sandia to the outside world,” she said.

Helena said students, parents and teachers have been thrilled that 3D-printing technology is not only a concept they have learned in the classroom, but a practical tool they can use to serve the community.

“It has been wonderful to see our next generations stepping up to the challenge, applying the advanced 3D-printing technology as a tool to fight the pandemic,” she said. “No one knows how and when this pandemic will exactly end. But we know that our students, families and communities are bringing their best selves to fight COVID-19.”