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Winter sports enthusiasts donating goggles to doctors in need of protective equipment

Ski goggles are far from normal personal protective equipment (PPE), but this situation is far from normal.
Ski goggles are far from normal personal protective equipment (PPE), but this situation is far from normal.Kevin Frayer/Getty

As healthcare professionals continue to face supply shortages amid a global pandemic, one of the many makeshift solutions to the problem has sprung up in the winter sports community.

Skiers and snowboarders, like other sports enthusiasts, had their season cut short by the measures to counteract the spread of COVID-19. But thanks to a newly created New England-based organization, they can help pitch in to remedy the shortage of protective medical equipment.

Goggles For Docs is helping companies and individuals donate ski and snowboard goggles to hospitals for use as personal protective equipment (PPE). It was started by Jon Schaefer, co-owner and general manager of Catamount and Berkshire East ski areas.

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Schaefer, who led the charge to close ski areas due to the threat of the coronavirus, noted that his heightened awareness was because of direct connections with the healthcare world.

“My wife is a physician’s assistant at Berkshire Medical Center, and there was an early outbreak in Pittsfield,” Schaefer said. “I know a lot of the doctors there. I have a friend who intubated patient zero in Vermont, so I guess I had a direct line to the stress.”

The donation of goggles began after Schaefer was connected with a New York doctor in need of protective gear. After arranging for an informal system of donations, Schaefer realized he needed to put together a more official effort.

Luckily, word was starting to get around about his cause, and volunteers were offering help.

“One of the messages was from a ski area software company, Inntopia, and their CEO, Trevor Crist said, ‘My team is here to help, whatever you need,’ ” Schaefer explained.

“I was at the grocery store leaving Northampton, and on the 40-minute drive home we basically hammered out the website and structure for Goggles For Docs in that phone call,” Schaefer continued. “Those guys stepped up and built the website. We built a platform for people or shops or larger ski brands like Anon and Smith to directly share with people in need that had signed up.”

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Within days, the requests were coming in from Massachusetts hospitals such as St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston, but also places as far away as New Zealand.

Fortunately, volunteers and donations have been pouring in from all over the country. Olympic gold medal skier Mikaela Shiffrin even shared the cause on her Instagram story.

Of course, ski goggles are far from normal PPE. That said, as Dr. Ronald Gross of St. Francis Hospital in Hartford pointed out, the current crisis is anything but normal.

“These are extreme times, and extreme times deserve extreme measures,” said Gross. “As far as I’m concerned, all of the volunteerism that we can get that will stay between the lines but outside the box is the way to go.”

And with efforts increasing daily, Goggles For Docs has only just begun to reach its potential.

“By last night we were at 4,900 goggles with shipments coming from major brands such as Scott, Anon, Smith, and then just countless individuals from across the country,” Schaefer said on Wednesday. He added that Goggles For Docs has so far been able to fulfill 90 percent of requests.

He’s been struck by how quickly so many people have come together for the cause, most of whom don’t know each other.

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“What’s crazy about this whole thing is one day we’re all going to meet,” Schaefer said of the hundreds of volunteers. “There’s this whole team that’s developed, and only a handful of us that know each other face to face.

“Everybody wants to help. The one thing I think we did was connect people with a lot of passion to help and a motivated ski community with people that are really asking for help. If anything, maybe in that there’s just a little bit of hope. People are fired up.”