By Adam Grobman
Not everyone can afford to social distance.
So when COVID-19 became widespread, Harrisburg native Jacob Halbert sprung into action to help to better protect those at high-risk of contracting the disease.
The Michigan engineering student was on a routine business call with the Chinese manufacturer of the Keyper cell phone wallet, a product that Jacob and Ezra Gershanok (whom Jacob met at Emma Kaufman Camp in Pittsburgh) developed to solve a problem many students have: losing their keys and cards.
As the trio spoke on a video call, Jacob and Ezra noticed that the manufacturer had protective masks behind him. They asked about the masks, and discovered that they could be purchased at a price far lower than they had seen online. They saw another problem that they could solve.
Together, along with Brendan Bernicker and Rayna Recht, they quickly formed the COVID Response Network, a nonprofit which is collaborating with various Jewish Federations and other agencies to purchase and distribute masks through funds raised from family friends, a GoFundMe campaign, social media, and private donors.
“The more we talked about it, we realized there was so much need, so we put together this network,” said Jacob, who currently lives in Florida while not at school.
To date, the network has purchased 100,000 masks which have been delivered or committed to more than twenty-five organizations across five states, primarily focusing on organizations that have a high need, such as nursing homes, hospitals, homeless shelters, food pantries, and prisons.
“A lot of our work has been focused on people who don’t have as much access to sophisticated supply chains,” Jacob says, noting that people in prisons are at high risk with overcrowding. 6,000 masks are en route to Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to benefit county prisons.
While he no longer lives in Harrisburg, Jacob wanted to give back to the community that he grew up in, and 2000 masks were delivered to the Campus of the Jewish Home of Greater Harrisburg.
“At a time when we needed it most, Jacob and the COVID Response Network came through,” says Allen Geckle, CEO of the Campus of the Jewish Home. “We go through hundreds of masks each day to protect our residents and co-workers, and this donation came at a critical time while we were ramping up our inventory and identifying new suppliers. The Campus is grateful to Jacob and CRN for providing these much needed resources at a very critical time.”
The group is still accepting donations through its website, www.covidresponsenetwork.org, where a donation of $5 helps to purchase ten masks for distribution.
“A time like this casts into light the immense need for people to take responsibility and to help each other,” Jacob says. “Even from home, we are still able to help our communities.”
For more information and to donate to the COVID Response Network, visit www.covidresponsenetwork.org.