Rausser Groups Spearhead Pandemic Aid

Person wearing mask, making a mask

Common Humanity Collective organizer Christopher Gee displays prototype mask designs. PHOTO: Christopher Gee

In response to shortages of sanitization supplies and protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic, groups from Rausser College teamed up with the Energy & Biosciences Institute (EBI) to act. Since March, volunteers in the College have been producing and distributing hand sanitizer, masks, and disinfectant wipes. What began as the efforts of two graduate students in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology spread across the University before coalescing into the Common Humanity Collective (CHC), a mutual aid group of Berkeley scientists, Bay Area activists, community leaders, and neighbors.

For example, in collaboration with EBI, the Coates lab started the Clean Hands Project (CHP), a volunteer-run initiative that provides sanitizer wipes to vulnerable communities. To date, CHP has produced at least 515,000 wipes, serving women’s shelters, homeless encampments, and other sites across the Bay Area and the Central Valley, said Yi Liu, a researcher in the Coates lab. Volunteers in the Olzmann lab produced hand sanitizer and, working with the Berkeley Free Clinic, deployed bottles of it and handwashing stations to more than 20 homeless encampments. Another group, including professor Arash Komeili and Cooperative Extension specialist Peggy Lemaux, made more than 13,000 masks and distributed them to over 200 Bay Area locations and to Hmong and Mien refugee farmers in the Central Valley.

“There’s been a shared spirit of both individual initiative and collective action in order to take some measure of responsibility for the well-being of our own communities,” said Christopher Gee, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology who helped launch the mask-making effort.

Today, CHC has more than 100 active volunteers, a community-wide distribution system, and connections to more than 200 organizations. In August, Congressman Ro Khanna awarded CHC recognition for its support of Narika, a domestic violence organization. To get involved with CHC or donate, go to commonhumanitycollective.org.

— By Jacob Shea