Kobe Hurtado had settled in for a typical day as a work-study intern at Boston College’s Montserrat Office when dozens of boxes filled with 5,000 blue, medical face masks arrived earlier this month.
Hurtado, a junior, was happy to distribute the masks to his fellow students enrolled in Montserrat, a program that provides financial and social support for low-income students at the Jesuit-run university in Chestnut Hill.
“It’s definitely a relief for myself and other Montserrat students who came into the office and saw that we actually had a donation of masks,” he said in an interview. “Just seeing their faces brighten up as soon as we were giving them some.”
The masks were a gift from Burgess Brothers, a hospitality firm in Sacramento, CA., owned by twins Jonathan and Matthew Burgess. The donation was made as part of the minority-owned company’s celebration of Black History Month.
The brothers, one a firefighter and the other a law enforcement officer, switched the focus of their business to personal protection equipment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They had already donated 6,000 masks to people in Africa when learned about the Montserrat program from an employee whose daughter is enrolled.
“We’re public servants, and so when you just look into what the coalition does, this makes sense,” Jonathan Burgess said in a telephone interview. “We’re protecting people, so if we could afford that opportunity to the students, that’s absolutely incredible.”
The Monserrat Office, part of the university’s Division of Mission & Ministry, provides support for low-income students at BC. Help is provided to buy textbooks, attend campus events, among other supportive services. Many of the current 2,246 students enrolled are the first in their families to attend college.
Yvonne McBarnett, the Montserrat director, was moved by the student and her mother’s offer to arrange the donation of masks.
“She said, ‘My mom and I think we can donate some masks.’ So my assumption was her mom was going to get with a PTO group, and they were going to make some, stitch them up, and donate them to us. I was excited about that,” McBarnett said.
Her jaw dropped when she was told there were 5,000 masks. They were distributed to 500 students, based on need. One nursing student received her own box of 50, McBarnett said.
When the masks were distributed last week, several students shed tears of gratitude, McBarnett said.
“We got them in the room, and I mean there were tears shed on top of tears,” she said.
McBarnett said that student’s thoughtfulness and willingness to give back was a sign the program was a success.
“I have to say that the students are very resilient. They go through adversity, but I have to say that they’re shining, in light of everything they’re faced with,” McBarnett said.
BC students are required to wear face masks just about everywhere on campus. The university provided cloth masks to students during a required period of COVID-19 testing at the start of the semester. Before the donation, the Montserrat Office provided its students with reusable cloth masks.Surgical masks are also available upon request at both University Health Services and the college’s swab testing site, said Jack Dunn, a BC spokesperson.
“Nonetheless, this gift will be very helpful in providing additional masks to our neediest students,” Dunn said. “We are grateful for the donation.”