As an ICU nurse at Dignity Health Northridge Hospital Medical Center, Toluca Lake resident Tali Lee saw firsthand how medical supplies dwindled and personal protective equipment (PPE) abruptly became scarce with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year. But rather than sit back and hope that she and her fellow medical workers would continue to receive the PPE they desperately needed, Lee took action.
“When the pandemic hit, we were notified of shortages and that our emergency stockpiles could only stretch so far, not to mention the ever-changing information we were receiving about the virus,” she says. “So, before this became as pressing an issue as it did in places like New York City, I wanted to make sure my team — as well as myself — were covered with all the supplies needed.”
That’s when Lee, who’s been on the front lines throughout the pandemic as a nurse in a COVID-19-positive unit, began reaching out to her connected circle. She soon discovered through social media that her alma mater, de Toledo High School in Woodland Hills, might have exactly what she and so many others were looking for.
“I reached out to de Toledo High School, who mentioned that they had stockpiles of N95 masks they had saved in case of fires and that other high schools probably had some also,” Lee says. “They helped me contact the directors at other schools, and we received an outpouring of donations, not only for my hospital but other community hospitals as well.”
Through the help of Mark Shpall, Lee’s former basketball coach, who’s now the head of school at de Toledo, the school was able to provide Dignity Health Northridge Hospital Medical Center with 50 N95 masks. While most people would have been satisfied with rounding up that many masks during such uncertain times, Lee’s work was just getting started, thanks to a helping hand from her community.
“I reached out to our neighbor Jeff Nguyen, who is a reporter at CBS2/KCAL9, and they did a story on our need for PPE,” Lee says. “After the story aired, I had friends from all over sending me shipments of gloves and masks, who were worried for me since I couldn’t stay at home. A dentist in Burbank also contacted me to help after she had been closed down due to stay-at-home orders. She said she would use her 3D printer to make reusable masks, which made all the difference! I am still so heartened by the community response.”
While Lee has continued to put on a brave face for worried patients and cheer up co-workers who are just as stressed as she is, deep down, she admits she’s been riding a wave of emotions since the start of the pandemic. “These past few months have been a roller coaster,” she says. “There are days where you see some progress and feel proud of the strong work you have done, and then COVID-19 quickly reminds you this isn’t over yet. I also have a baby at home, and when this all started, she was barely 6 months old. I was scared and worried about her more than myself.”
But even in her lowest moments, Lee can always count on the Toluca Lake community to lift her back up and provide a sense of calm and happiness when she needs it most.
“My family and I enjoy the peaceful breeze while we walk to our favorite coffee shops, Priscilla’s and Aroma Coffee and Tea, where we have become regulars and have made friends along the way,” she says. “During the holidays, we love seeing the decorations on the houses. Our community is a special one, and we always come together. But what used to be afternoon walks with a few are now afternoon walks with many. We get to see our neighbors and realize we are all in this together. We are very lucky to have all of this in our backyard and be a part of such a close community.”