Amid the COVID-19 crisis, a St. John’s University faculty member is living out the enlightening European fable of the Stone Soup, which for generations has taught the value of sharing, collaboration and the positive effect it can have on others. In it, members of a small village are tricked into sharing different ingredients to make a delicious soup for hungry strangers.
Without any deception Anna Elaine A. Licari-Lagrassa, D.P.S., Professor of Administration and Economics in The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, has mustered a large volunteer force that creates and distributes masks for health-care professionals currently serving on the front lines of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. The masks are 100 percent cotton and can be worn on their own or to cover the N95 respirator, thereby extending its life.
Dr. Licari teaches Management and Marketing at St. John’s and came from an international career in marketing, working for global corporations such as Trans World Airlines (now American Airlines), Union Carbide, and Prudential Securities. She is a Fulbright Scholar and a United States Study Centre scholar.
“My family came from the garment and hospitality industries, and I have been sewing since age nine and designing most of my life,” Dr. Licari said, adding that she felt compelled to put those skills to good use during this crisis. She contacted local businesses, churches, as well as her fashion club, mobilizing a small army of dedicated volunteers.
Dr. Licari's husband, Edward, an architect, cuts the mask patterns and assists with deliveries. Her son Hunter travels with her in the evenings, also making deliveries. “Several nurses drive by the house to pick up masks, and I leave the package outside. They call me before and after in order to support social distancing,” she explained, adding that she also leaves masks in the trunks of doctors’ cars.
One of Dr. Licari's dearest friends is Jasmin Moshirpur, M.D., Medical Director at Queens and Elmhurst Hospital Center, and Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “She is at the epicenter of this crisis,” she stressed.
Very active in her home community of Douglaston, NY, Dr. Licari is a parishioner of St. Anastasia Parish and active in other local organizations. She connected Dr. Moshirpur with a parishioner at another local church who has arranged an upcoming delivery of upwards of 30,000 N95 masks.
The generosity of her fashion industry connections overwhelms Dr. Licari. “I called a friend who has an interior design business, hoping she could donate cotton fabric and elastic,” which is necessary to create the masks. Instead, the friend provided Dr. Licari with more than 400 masks, which she gave to Dr. Moshirpur.
“I tell people that this crisis is not a sprint, it is a marathon. I appreciate whatever support people give me, but I say if there is any way you can do more, that would be great.”
People in Dr. Licari's church are making masks for St. Mary’s Hospital for Children, located in Bayside, NY. “I do not care where they go, just as long as they get into the right hands,” she stressed. “You can do good in your own way, and that reverberates in ways you cannot imagine.”
Of course, Dr. Licari is still teaching four classes remotely, and she is heartened by the concern her students express for her and their fellows. “As the saying goes, if you cannot do what you do, do what you can,” Dr. Licari said. “God bless everyone who aids this effort. I know we will get through this.”