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On the Beat: St. Louis business owner gets N95 masks to the front lines in New York

On the Beat: St. Louis business owner gets N95 masks to the front lines in New York

From the Celebrate good: Stories of St. Louisans coming together, offering hope series
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N95 masks

FILE PHOTO: Various N95 respiration masks at a laboratory of 3M, that has been contracted by the U.S. government to produce extra marks in response to the country's novel coronavirus outbreak, in Maplewood, Minnesota, U.S. March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

This is the story of how a reader of my column saved lives in New York.

It started with a column last week in which I criticized President Donald Trump’s woeful response to the coronavirus pandemic. I have a few regular readers who are big fans of the president — who believe he can do no wrong and he should never be held to account — and they often respond to any mention of him in my columns with a dismissive note.

I received an email that I perceived to be one of those. It called my column disgusting. I had never exchanged notes with the reader before, and I responded, thanking him for reading my column and making my point.

He wrote back, asking me to help him understand the point of the column. So I did. I wrote him an in depth note explaining how much the political world has changed since Sept. 11 (the reference point of the column) and how the Era of Trump makes conversation about the president’s actions virtually impossible.

He didn’t agree with all of my points, but he read a few of my columns. He sent a thoughtful note. We learned a bit about each other. It was the sort of discussion between people who start off from a different place that is all too often lacking these days.

Fast forward a few days, when I wrote about the local ER doc also criticizing the federal response to the pandemic, and talking about how badly people in his profession need N95 masks and other personal protective equipment.

The reader from before emailed again. It turns out he owns a business and had stockpiled about 120 N95 masks for his employees. He was keeping them under lock and key, but he asked his staff what they wanted to do with them. Get them to the docs and nurses who need them most, they said. So the reader asked me if I could put him in touch with the doc.

His faith — he’s a devoted Christian — was guiding him to help in whatever way he could, the businessman told me. I put the two men in touch, and this is where the story gets really good.

The local ER doc knows he and his colleagues need the masks, but the folks on the front lines in New York need them more. And now. So he emailed an ER doc he knows there. She works at one of the hospitals that’s overwhelmed and they were working without the masks that were in shortage all over the city.

That night, the local businessman over-nighted the masks to New York. By the next day, they were being used a hospital in the Bronx.

“She said the masks were helpful from a practical perspective but the emotional lift she got from a group of strangers pitching in to help was the best part of all,” said the original ER doc I wrote about.

He told us both that the entire episode brought to mind the passage in the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus talks about praying in private, so as not to bring attention to oneself. In that spirit, the businessman didn’t want any credit, but he gave me permission to write about this, with the thought that it might lift spirits during a time of need.

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