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Judiciary Employees Find Ways to Help During Pandemic

Bryan King is a federal court software developer by trade and a think-outside-of-the-box kind of guy. When he noticed on one of his social media groups that a single medical-grade mask could be cut into pieces to make additional much-needed masks, he was intrigued.

Software Developer Bryan King with the 3D printer he uses to make masks for first responders.

Software Developer Bryan King with the 3D printer he uses to make masks for first responders.

King has friends who are first responders where he lives in Lincoln Park, Michigan, and he knew their supplies were running low. So in his free time, King, who works for the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan, downloaded design files available from the nonprofit Billings Clinic in Montana and began making masks. The process involves cutting a mask into two-and-a-half inch squares – all that’s needed for the actual breathing portion of the mask – and then using 3D printing to build the rest of a face-conforming mask out of a pliable plastic.

Each mask takes over four hours to complete, and King has supplied them to emergency medical technicians, nurses, and police officers in his community.

King is among the countless Judiciary employees across the court system who have volunteered to help people in need in their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Court employees have scoured storerooms for unused N95 respirator masks and disposable gloves, purchased meals for hospital staffs, collected diapers and formula, volunteered at community organizations, and sewn (or 3D printed) masks for first responders and medical personnel.

“My mission is to help one person at a time,” said Andrea Wabeke, a 23-year veteran court reporter who has been doing crisis intervention work at a domestic and sexual violence shelter in Washtenaw County, Michigan. 

Wabeke works weekends and 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. shifts on weekdays at a 24-hour call center for Safehouse Center, the only facility of its kind in the county. She handles calls from victims of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, guiding them through the steps of reporting the abuse, getting counseling, or joining a support group.

“Sometimes, they are in an immediate crisis, and the first thing we do is check on their safety,” Wabeke said. “Sometimes, they just need to talk.”

She also teaches a 10-week course in abuse survival at a women’s prison in Michigan, but the classes have been suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

The University of Arkansas Medical Center  receives much-needed supplies from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas.

Ann Williams, director of Supply Chain and Ancillary Services for the University of Arkansas Medical Center, receives much-needed supplies from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas.  

Earlier this spring, James C. Duff, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, put out a call to all courts to check their stockpiles after federal courts in Florida discovered unused masks and gloves in storage and donated them to local hospitals. Duff’s memo prompted courts around the country to search storerooms for supplies reserved for emergency use. 

Employees of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas checked an emergency supply cabinet and found thousands of masks and gloves. They alerted the University of Arkansas Medical Center, which sent staff the next day to pick up 1,500 N-95 respirator masks and 900 pairs of gloves for distribution to hospitals around the state, said Charlotte Gomlicker, the court’s space and resources manager.

Similarly, Judge David J. Hale encouraged employees of the District Court for Western Kentucky to search their supplies and they ultimately donated 340 pairs of protective gloves, nearly 500 N95 masks, and a large batch of sanitizing wipes to the Louisville-Jefferson County Incident Management Team. N95 masks are especially needed in hospitals because they filter our 95 percent of airborne particles. In the Western District of Washington, probation and pretrial officers gave four area hospitals more than 12,000 gloves, 50 medical-grade masks including N95s, and 1,300 antibacterial wipes, along with hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, and soap refills.

Kristine Mauldin, a procurement specialist for the District Court for Eastern Missouri, had to look no further than her own courthouse to find people in need during the pandemic. Three of the four employees of the privately-run Eagle’s Nest cafeteria were laid off when the courthouse had to be closed for safety reasons. She and colleague Alicia Thompson, a case management clerk, held online fundraisers for the workers and raised $12,000 to help cover their expenses until the cafeteria can reopen.

“A couple of them have little kids so (the pandemic) was really hard on these families,” Mauldin said. “The owner emailed us to say the help was amazing and that he plans on hiring them back. A little help can go a long way.”

When the staff of the Defender Services Office (DSO) in Washington, D.C., discovered that a colleague’s spouse was working the night shift as a nurse doing COVID-19 testing for the University of Maryland Medical Center, they decided to support her and the others on the hospital’s front line. They compiled a list of late-night restaurants that provided take-out and began sending the emergency room crew a rotating assortment of pizza, barbecue, and taco dinners.

Rolan McClarry, who works in training support in the DSO, said his nurse-wife, Tiarra, came home and told him that some of her fellow nurses cried “because of the generosity of people they don’t even know.”

Law Clerk Sarah Tomlinson at home sewing a face mask to help homeless veterans.

Law Clerk Sarah Tomlinson at home sewing a face mask to help homeless veterans.

Court employees with sewing skills have been especially busy during their off hours these past few weeks, stitching together hundreds of cloth masks for first responders and local hospital personnel.

Sarah Tomlinson, law clerk for Chief Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States, of the Eastern District of Missouri, has been sewing masks nightly from the bags of scrap material she keeps on hand for quilting, one of her hobbies.

“I grew up on a farm in the rural part of Illinois, and I was one of nine kids. We learned how to make things and how to fix things. Quilting was one of them,” she said.  

She donates the masks to organizations that assist homeless veterans. Her husband, Geoff, who is retired from the Army, is also handy with a needle, having sewn on his own uniform patches. Before long, he was recruited to Sarah’s evening mask-making operation.

“He does a lot of the folding and pinning,” she said. “Frankly, he’s just as talented at sewing as I am, and veterans’ causes are important to both of us.”

Patricia Hommel, an assistant to District Judge Bernard A. Friedman, of Detroit, has worked with her husband on making masks as well. The two of them have donated over 400 hand-made masks. Judge Friedman said they are among the “unsung heroes of this coronavirus fight.”