Doing Their Part

Donated PPEs for pandemic responders.


Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter most. In this time of social distancing, uncertainty and remote learning and working, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. Three members of the USD community share what they’re doing to step up and be a part of the solution.

Small Gesture, Big Impact

It’s mid-afternoon on Wednesday, April 1, and James Brennan ’96 (BBA) is on the road, driving to the first of the three or four San Diego emergency rooms where he plans to drop off boxes of Suja Juice for staff on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The entrepreneur and co-founder of Suja says he’s been making these runs for three weeks. “We plan on doing this every week until this thing is done. it’s really just to let them know we care about them and we appreciate them. It’s a small gesture, but it really has an impact.”

USD alumnus James Brennan with ER workersIn a troubled time, Brennan says making these deliveries helps him to find a positive note in a sea of bad news. “It’s the one thing I look forward to doing,” he says.

Over the years, Brennan has stepped-up time after time when people need help, finding a need and filling it. In 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit Rockaway Beach — his hometown in Queens, New York — in 2012, he quickly traveled there and spearheaded rescue efforts, rebuilt homes and did his part to revitalize the community.

“Back when we had the fires and I had all the restaurants, we were cooking meals for the firehouses to let them know how much we appreciated them,” he recalls. “It goes a long way to let the people who are doing all the heavy lifting know that there are people who are thinking about them.”

He says the response from those on the frontlines of the pandemic in San Diego ERs is moving. “One of the nurses who was all geared up when I pulled up didn’t even really understand what I was doing there. But when one of her friends came out and said, ‘Oh my God, I love Suja, it’s so healthy,’ it all sort of processed for her. She started crying and I wanted to just hug her.”

Brennan urges others to do their part to alleviate the stress and anxiety of their own immediate communities. “In a time of extreme stress and anxiety like this, being in a place of gratitude and service is a great neutralizer. I think it releases endorphins and has all sorts of positive effects on you as an individual. I wouldn’t underestimate it.”

Suja Juice is doing similar work in markets outside of San Diego. If you’d like to help, go to

Find a Need and Fill It

Two USD nursing graduates are on the front lines of supporting their fellow health care workers during the crisis.

Leslie Dela Cruz-Torio ’15 (PhD) and Julie Kathryn Graham ’18 (PhD) helped organize a drive to collect masks, gloves and other personal protection equipment (PPE) for Sharp HealthCare professionals.

Since March 25, their drive in Chula Vista has collected several thousand N95 masks, several hundred isolation gowns and several hundred pairs of gloves from local businesses and individuals.

“Small donations add up to a lot,” says Graham. “We’re filling a significant need.”

The donations are as much a morale booster as they are protection for those providing first-line care for the hundreds of patients infected by the virus in San Diego.

“This is hard work. It’s scary,” says Graham, a quality improvement senior specialist. The donations “help health care professionals feel the community is supporting us.”

At the same time, “we are still critically low on PPEs and could really use more donations,” adds Dela Cruz-Torio, a patient safety program coordinator.

Donations are being accepted at Sharp locations around the county. Click here for more information.

Helping Close to Home

When Danyella Burciaga ’17 (BA) — a master’s student in USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences working on a dual a dual teaching credential — saw a post of the NextDoor app looking for volunteers to help in her Encinitas neighborhood, she was quick to step up.

“I signed up, and before long the app was flooded with elderly folks who needed help with things like getting groceries and prescriptions. So, I thought, ‘Why not go out and pick things up for them?”

Burciaga was heartened that about 200 others also stepped up to heed that call for help, and says in her case, it’s resulted in real connections. “There’s one couple in particular that I’ve built a relationship with. They have a lot of prescriptions, and sometimes they need things like flour, because they want to do some baking. So, they’ll text me, and I’ll wait and see who else needs something, so that I only need to make one trip.” She typically does two such runs per week.

“I have four households with people who are 65 and older that I’ve dedicated my time to.”

She points out that the need can be right next door. “People who want to help should think about what’s needed in their immediate community. And if you can’t go out for them, consider giving them a phone call or text. They’ll appreciate it, and it’s not a small thing.” — Julene Snyder and Liz Harman

Have a story to share about Toreros responding to the COVID-19 pandemic? We’d love to hear from you!

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