Juvenile Diabetes foundation fights COVID-19 with special masks

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Mary Rosario knows how dangerous COVID-19 is, and like so many mothers she’s taking precautions to protect her family.

But for Mary wearing masks, social distancing and disinfecting everything all the time is a full-time job.  That’s because her seven-year-old son, Gabe, has type 1 diabetes, and people with diabetes are at a higher risk of getting seriously ill or even dying from the virus. 

“Having an immune-compromised child during this time has been challenging,” Rosario said. “We need to be very careful everywhere we go and with anyone we come in contact with.”

In addition, Rosario is also concerned about the impact the virus has had on fundraising events that underwrite vital research for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

The foundation drives research through advocacy and fundraising and with a consortium of researchers. It is the largest private funder of diabetes research worldwide.

“We have lost a substantial amount of funding that would have been raised through our community walks and galas, so COVID-19 forced us to ‘reimagine’ our fundraising efforts by taking our spring walk virtual, re-strategize how we connect with the community, supporters and those with type 1 diabetes,” explained Brooks Biagini, executive director of JDRF North Florida. 

The organization has had to make difficult decisions, Biagini said. About two months ago, it furloughed half its workforce and reduced salaries of the remaining staff by 20% to help ensure its mission is funded.

Even after these cost cutting measures, the foundation still faces a funding gap at a time when diabetes, types 1 and 2, is putting people at a higher risk with COVID-19.

Biagini emphasized that now is not the time to slow down research for treatments and a cure.

In an effort to reduce the funding gap and protect the community from the dangers of COVID-19, JDRF North Florida started the #StrongerTogether mask campaign.

For a donation of $25 or more, donors will receive a branded, high-quality polyester-and-spandex, washable mask. Donors can also choose to have them donated to an essential worker or someone with underlying conditions like diabetes through the website at www.strongertogethermasks.com.

Meanwhile, the global outbreak of COVID-19 has added new challenges, fears and uncertainties for people living with diabetes.

“My husband Robert and I feel very blessed to have the local JDRF to help support us with information as well as to provide us with supplies like these masks to assist in ensuring Gabe has the best opportunity to reduce his exposure to COVID-19,” Rosario said.

No decision has yet been made on whether JDRF North Florida’s 20th anniversary Miracles Gala, scheduled for Oct. 17, will be in person or virtual.

“We are watching the infection rate, and we want to make the safest decision,” Biagini said. “Many of our diabetic clients and their families attend this event, so we are holding out on making a decision yet. We also know things are financially tight for so many people, but if you are in a position where you can help support one of our most vulnerable populations, we need your help.”

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