USF Sarasota-Manatee student is collecting masks

USF Sarasota-Manatee campus student launches mask collection drive to fight COVID-19

By Rich Shopes

Monday, April 20, 2020


Jessica Pérez Maqueda agonizes over the devastation caused by coronavirus in her native Spain, and she’s equally troubled at the impact she sees in her adopted homeland. 

So when the USF Sarasota-Manatee School of Education student and mother of two heard about the need by local hospitals for medical masks she sprang into action, purchasing 250 masks online and encouraging family and friends to buy hundreds more. Her goal: to acquire 1,000 masks to donate to Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton. 

Jessica Pérez Maqueda

Jessica Pérez Maqueda

“I’m the kind of person that if I start something and it has a good impact, I think, ‘Why not try it again,’ and maybe I can do it smarter and bigger next time,” she said. “I’ve always been that way.” 

A friend and nurse who treats coronavirus patients at Manatee Memorial told Pérez about the demand for quality medical masks for patients, staff and visitors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health care professionals now account for 20 percent of confirmed coronavirus cases. 

After going back and forth to ensure the right type of mask, she completed the $50 online order, but then she thought: “Why not take it the next level?” Scrolling through her contacts, she texted about 60 friends, family members and coworkers locally, enlisting their support and providing photos and ordering information to purchase the masks online and have them delivered to her home. 

“I’m very aware of people’s finances during this time and I know that this has been especially hard on students, so I was very selective about who to send messages to,” Pérez said. “Everybody is struggling, but everybody wants to help, too, so maybe this is another way we can help each other.” 

She estimates that 20 percent of those she contacted have purchased masks. The first orders arrived at her home last week, and with the 250 she acquired on her own in early April, she’s more than three-quarters of the way toward her goal. 

Helene Robinson, EdD, an instructor in the School of Education, praised the junior elementary education major’s initiative. 

“Her determination and contribution both with her classes and to the greater community is such a great example of the grit, determination and collaboration that makes our USF Sarasota-Manatee campus community so great and will help us get through this pandemic,” Robinson said. 

The pandemic hit Spain especially hard with more than 20,000 deaths, and while Pérez’s family members have avoided the virus’ devastating effects, they all know friends and coworkers severely impacted by it. Pérez, 44, grew up in La Línea de la Concepción, a city of about 65,000 on the southeastern coast, across from Gibraltar, and she still has numerous brothers, aunts, uncles and other family in the area. 

After working at an international school and teaching English, she emigrated to Bradenton in 2005, where she raised her two sons and worked at a child abuse prevention center and taught English as a second language in Manatee County public schools. 

In 2018, she enrolled at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus to pursue a degree in elementary education. She expects to graduate next spring. After that, she’s considering pursuing a master’s degree in dual-language instruction. Her husband teaches history at State College of Florida’s collegiate program for high school students. 

Pérez estimates she’ll reach her goal of 1,000 masks by early May. 

“For me, what this initiative shows most of all is what can happen when people come together,” she said. “I am able to do this only through the generosity and collaboration of those who agreed to join me.”

To learn more about the Universiity of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus, visit http://www.usfsm.edu.


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