While most of the University of Washington has shut down to comply with the state’s coronavirus response, many custodial workers are still reporting to work on campus. Evalynn Romano, a Master of Public Health (MPH) student in the Department of Global Health, was seeing stories of people providing supplies and other gifts to healthcare workers, but wondered why custodial workers were not being shown the same appreciation.
In late March, Romano decided to take matters into her own hands. After sending out an email to friends and family asking for funds that would go toward bread and coffee for the UW custodians, she received an overwhelming amount of support. When money for the "pan de sal + kape” (bread and coffee) fund started rolling in, Romano realized that she would have enough to serve all areas of the UW Seattle campus. In order to cover the entire campus, Romano undergoes a routine that starts the night before her distribution. In addition to the bread and coffee, Romano also ensures that the workers will be protected from COVID-19, as the community’s efforts in gathering supplies also includes handmade cloth masks.
“The evening before I distribute coffee and bread, a friend goes to Delite Bakery (a small Filipino bakery that I have chosen to support) in Beacon Hill to get the bags of coconut bread,” Romano explained. “While I tie thank you notes around the bread, my mom cuts out proper mask use and care instructions, which are placed into individual Ziploc bags.”
The day of distribution begins bright and early, with Romano waking up before sunrise and also making sure to follow proper social distancing protocol upon arriving at campus.
“I wake up at 3:10 a.m. to start making coffee. I arrive at the custodial worker’s clock-in station typically at 4:40 a.m. with two pots full of hot coffee, a big box of coconut bread with thank you notes, and the reusable cloth masks, some of which my friend and her mother have been sewing,” Romano said. “After they clock-in, I ask if they would like coffee, bread, and a mask. Once all custodial workers are served, I clean up, pack my things, and head home. I usually get home at around 5:45 a.m.”
Romano estimates that she has served over 175 custodians, MC1s, carpet cleaners, and window washers at this point. She broke down the campus into seven different areas, covering one area per week and initiating plans a week in advance.
“I reach out to the manager and supervisors of the area that I plan to serve in the following week to inform them of my efforts, ask permission, coordinate good days/times to ensure all custodial workers in that area are reached, and come up with a plan that follows social distancing measures.”
The early hours – in addition to the lack of people on campus right now – means that many of the custodial workers are in for a pleasant surprise when they arrive at work to find fresh bread and coffee.
“It is an unusual sight for the workers to see someone set up coffee and bread at their clock station!” Romano remarked. “Although I have tried, photographs cannot adequately capture their reactions in the morning. I let them know that the community donated funds for the bread, created the thank you notes, and sewed the masks. They love that others are thinking of them. I also tell them that my parents are UW custodians and many of them lovingly know my mom, who is still working.”
Both of Romano’s parents are a part of the UW custodial community. Her mother has been a custodian in the Art Building for 31 years and counting, while her dad worked for 25 years, most recently in the Health Sciences Building. This link between Romano and the custodial workers not only helped her connect with them, but also helped her collect the necessary materials to make this project happen.
“I have received a lot of support from friends and family because they know that I am the daughter of UW custodial workers; they understand why I am pursuing this effort,” Romano shared. “A friend donated three boxes of coffee beans that I use to make fresh, hot coffee in the mornings. Another friend and her mom have been sewing reusable cloth masks. Several others have supported by creating thank you notes or picking up the coconut bread. People I have never met, but who have heard about my work have reached out to me saying that this is a wonderful idea. I still feel overwhelmed by the generosity of each person's donation.”
While Romano mentioned that none of this would be possible without the community’s help, she noted that she has gotten several things back from the community as well.
“The most surprising part for me is when people thank me for what I am doing and give me small gifts,” Romano said. “I’ve already received notes, homemade baked goods, and a book from people showing their appreciation. This is a community effort. I am just the person bringing the community's appreciation to the custodial workers directly.”
Those who are interested in being a part of this appreciation effort can email Evalynn for details, or support her with funds used for purchasing bread via Venmo (@evalynn-romano) or PayPal (paypal.me/evalynnfae).