One simple idea. Multiple examples of synergy. Ample appreciation. All in the wake of a nightmarish pandemic.
That pretty much sums up events that began with a mid-April phone call and culminated with overwhelming mutual appreciation in a partnership between Stetson University and The Pargh Foundation to benefit area health care workers.
On April 23, 170 emergency room workers at AdventHealth DeLand received complementary meals (gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, sides, desserts and drinks) during three work shifts, delivered by independently owned Toasted restaurant. A day later, 120 ER workers at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach were fed during two shifts by independently owned Zarrella’s Italian & Wood Fired Pizza restaurant.
Funding for the meals came from a generous donation by The Pargh Foundation, a charitable trust. The donation was intended to thank hospital personnel for the work they’re doing during the COVID-19 pandemic while also providing support to local restaurants.
In addition, Stetson handed out ear guards, which were manufactured using 3D printers from the university’s Innovation Lab in the duPont-Ball Library on campus. The ear guards were designed to enhance comfort for the health care workers, who must wear protective face masks and shields, as COVID-19 continues its unprecedented onslaught.
That’s the snapshot. Here’s the story.
Andy Pargh, founder of The Pargh Foundation, had an idea. He wanted to thank health care workers — from maintenance staffers and orderlies to nurses, doctors and others — for their efforts in trying times. He also wanted to help support small independent businesses, who, similarly, are facing extreme economic challenges.
In the recent past, Pargh, a resident of Central Florida, had become a donor for Shabbat dinners as part of Stetson’s Jeffrey and Diane Ginsburg Hillel House, which opened on campus in December 2019. Through that gift, he had met Rina Tovar Arroyo, Stetson’s assistant vice president for Development, Parent and Alumni Engagement. So, Pargh gave her a call.
Notably, Pargh is known as The Gadget Guru. After beginning his career with Texas Instruments, he became an expert at taking complicated consumer products and making them easy for the masses to understand. As such, he became a media darling and 25 years ago introduced America to email on NBC’s The Today Show, famously helping host Matt Lauer send his first email.
This time, Pargh didn’t have a solution, just a question.
“I called Rina and asked, “I’ll send you a check, but can you make sure it gets implemented properly? … She just did a wonderful job,” Pargh said. “The most important people were in the middle of this, really doing the legwork. I had the easy job of just sending a check out.
“To me, it’s like a win-win. You’re saying ‘thank you’ to a group of health care people who are doing very dangerous but very necessary work in our life right now. And you’re helping small business.”
Arroyo, in response, reached out to Michele Skelton ’84, PhD, associate professor of health sciences, who had been teaching at Stetson since 1993. And a plan was set into motion.
Skelton is a past recipient of the McEniry Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest award given to a faculty member at Stetson. She had served as chair of the integrative health science department from 1999 to 2012, and was the Lynn and Mark Hollis chair of health and wellness from 2009 to 2015. She also taught numerous students who had advanced to a broad range of careers in medicine and health care. Further, Skelton always has kept in regular touch with them.
So, she contacted some of them at area hospitals, in DeLand and Daytona Beach. Their message was a familiar one. “I heard from my former students that food is always a good idea,” Skelton described.
Toasted and Zarrella’s were chosen as the restaurants largely by virtue of past experiences with Pargh.
From its food truck, Toasted (a fast-casual brand focused on “elevating a classic American sandwich,” with locations in metro Orlando) delivered brisket grilled cheese and a fig, goat cheese, arugula sandwich, among others.
Zarrella’s — touted as “more than just a pizza restaurant” — arrived from its location in Cape Canaveral with an assortment of sandwiches, pastas and more. Zarrella’s also brought a well-known helper from the Space Coast: restaurant co-owner John Zarrella, a former CNN reporter who had covered numerous high-profile flight events, such as the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster and astronaut/politician John Glenn’s 1998 return to space.
“This goes well beyond a monetary donation,” said Megan Yarmouth, owner of Toasted. “It helps keeps our truck rolling, both literally and figuratively, and rewards those selflessly working for others during this crisis.”
Dennis Guilmette, co-owner of Zarrella’s, whose sister is a South Florida nurse practitioner, called the effort a “way to pay it forward and a way to help grow our business.”
Coincidentally, even before Pargh’s donation, Skelton had been thinking about a way to help health care workers through 3D printing at Stetson, with initial thoughts centered on making needed face shields. However, in consulting with Susan Ryan, MLS, dean of Stetson’s duPont-Ball Library and Learning Technologies, too many hurdles were present, and the approved plastic material wasn’t available. That’s when Skelton, again with the help of former students, turned her focus to ear guards.
“There are a lot of barriers to 3D printing for healthcare workers. So, I was so excited when Michele brought this idea to me,” said Ryan, who also had been exploring options.
Noted Skelton: “I just was the person who, as Sue Ryan puts it, came up with a viable idea. She and her staff were the ones who jumped on it and ran with it.”
The ear guards were a comfort item and not considered personal protection equipment. They provide health care workers relief from the constant pressure of the shield’s elastic security strap on ears. As a result, there were fewer safety and materials restrictions. The guards were printed in PLA (polylactic acid) plastic, which is bio-degradable, nontoxic and strong.
Then the race was on to merge handouts of the ear guards at the hospitals with the scheduled deliveries of food.
Innovation Lab staff members Tony Ganus and Chris Finkle handled the exacting operation of 3D printing. Ganus printed 100 plastic ear guards from his home, using a lab printer. Finkle, who lives near campus, used several printers at the lab to make 200 more over two full days.
“The trick to this was not the printing,” noted Ryan. “It was the very quick turnaround time [to meet the delivery schedule].”
Following that effort, Ryan and her husband, Tandy Grubbs, PhD, Stetson professor and chair of chemistry, sanitized and individually packaged the ear guards — with Ryan noting it didn’t hurt that her husband also “knew plastics.”
Synergy in action.
“This precisely exemplifies the spirit of Stetson, people coming together as a community to accomplish a common goal,” Skelton commented. “I am very grateful to be a part of the team that through the generous donation of the Pargh Foundation had the opportunity to express our thanks to our health care heroes, especially my health science alumni, for caring for our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“We’re just so grateful that Andy thought of us, and our partnership with the Pargh Foundation is really helping to ‘do good’ on so many levels,” said Arroyo. “It gives me chills when I think about how we are coming together to support our community this way.”
Ample appreciation, too.
Prior to the event at AdventHealth DeLand, Christopher Riccard, MD, a 2008 Stetson alumnus and former student of Skelton’s, lauded her approach to teaching, saying, “She was truly a friend, mentor and family to everyone.”
Following the delivery of food April 23, he spoke about “generous support,” adding, “I know our providers/staff appreciated it.”
The same for Kristen Krier ’13, an emergency room nurse at Halifax Health Medical Center. Krier recently had shared her professional experiences online for a current class of health science students at Stetson. She called the gesture of gratitude an “act of kindness that reminds us we aren’t alone, and we are appreciated for our hard work.”
In the end, that’s precisely the sentiment Pargh wanted to hear. He now plans to continue helping Stetson thank other health care workers and first responders at sites across Central Florida.
His words: “It’s an honor to work with organizations such as Stetson, and I just applaud Rina and her crew for taking this concept and implementing it so quickly.”