Oak Knoll, Parents Mobilize to Support COVID-19 Frontline Heroes

New Jersey’s social distancing orders are keeping all groups at home these days, but that hasn’t stopped Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child from pitching in to help those fighting COVID-19 on the frontlines.

On Monday, April 6, 2020, Oak Knoll donated 150 disposable face masks and 500 pairs of gloves from the school’s Summit campus supply to assist the hospital staff at Overlook Medical Center. And, a group of Oak Knoll parents, faculty and students have mobilized to sew cloth face masks for hospitals, police departments and other frontline workers in need.

Jean Marie Volpe, parent of an Oak Knoll junior, and Pam Reitz-Bouren, parent of an Oak Knoll seventh grader, have organized the grassroots effort called SASSy Royals, which is also collecting sewing materials including ribbon, fabric, sewing machines, shoelaces as well as baby monitors and old iPads and iPhones. Hospitals are in need of baby monitors to monitor their sick patients, many of whom are in isolation. Patients in isolation need the iPads and iPhones to facetime with family.

Volpe and Reitz-Bouren’s initiative to help was two-fold. They were inspired after reading about the Summit Area Sewing Squad (SASS) – the local group who sew facemasks for the area’s first responders and Overlook Medical Center in Summit.

They were also inspired when Anne Merritt, another parent of an Oak Knoll junior, made masks with the school’s logo on the ribbon and donated them to the Summit Police Department.

The group then decided to ask the Oak Knoll community for assistance and their efforts yet expanded even more to help hospitals and first responders beyond those within the Atlantic and Barnabas Health systems.

“I realized through my position at my company that I could provide an effective distribution network to get these masks delivered to where they are needed most,” said Reitz-Bouren, a manager at Medtronic, a medical device company. Her team works with operating rooms supporting surgeries for urgent/non-elective patients during this crisis.

In the past 10 days, the SASSy Royals have distributed more than 2,000 masks to 30 different hospitals, to the New York Police Department and to other local police departments where the need is most dire.

“Nine New Jersey hospitals are now diverting patients, so I would imagine this week we will see more masks going to New Jersey,” said Reitz-Bouren, who is using this time as an opportunity to teach her children about service so they feel engaged and part of the battle while at home.

As of now, Volpe and Reitz-Bouren said they could still use more help with donations or finding volunteers to help sew the masks. The group currently has five sewers — including two parents, Oak Knoll’s physics teacher Dr. Regina Neiman, and two Oak Knoll students, Kaitlin Kramer ’20 and Catherine Merritt ’21.

Dr. Neiman, who is sewing again after 10 years, said that being able to sew face masks to help those who are out there working to help the sick is a great way to make a positive difference.

“While we are all home, we want to be able to maximize our time to the best of our ability,” said Volpe, whose own children help collect and distribute materials safely. “There is no rainy day to help. The time to help is now and we want to reach beyond our own households to help these people on the frontlines anyway we can.”

The SASSy Royals are still in search of donation items, sewers and financial contributions. To learn more about how you can contribute to this cause, please reach out to Jean Marie Volpe at 917-716-7812 or volpefamily6@icloud.com.