Shortly after de Toledo High School closed on March 10 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and moved to virtual learning, Head of School Mark Shpall got a call from the school’s business manager, David Marcus, who said, “Just to remind you, we have all these N95 masks. What do you want to do?”
The school, which is located in West Hills, had almost 2,000 masks in its emergency storage after the 2019 fires that ravaged the San Fernando Valley. But with students off campus, there was no immediate need for them.
Shpall’s first call was to his brother Andy, a physician at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills Medical Center. Andrew Shpall connected his brother to the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Greg Kelman. And on March 20, Mark Shpall delivered 1,300 N95 masks to the hospital. Several hospital staff met him at the curb as he unloaded the boxes from his car. “One of the doctors in the picture, my brother said later, had tears in his eyes,” Mark Shpall said.
That same day, David Marcus delivered 700 masks to the nearby Los Angeles Police Department West Hills Police Stations Topanga location with which the school has a “deep relationship,” Mark Shpall said. “And then at the same time, I got contacted by one of our alumna, who graduated in [de Toledo’s] founding class of 2006.”
Tali Lee is an ICU nurse at Dignity Health Northridge Hospital Medical Center. The Toluca Lake resident is one of several nurses working in a COVID-19 positive unit. Shpall had been her basketball coach at de Toledo, then New Community Jewish High School, and Lee had seen a post on an alumni social media page about the school’s mask donations.
“I have been saying kindness is infectious. I have been saying that to everybody. Even though this virus is infectious, so is kindness. A mitzvah goes a long way.” — Tali Lee
“I was so happy,” she said. “We all need it. I have friends at Cedars, UCLA … we all went to nursing school together.” At the same time, she wondered if the school might have any more. So she reached out to Mark Shpall, who found 50 more masks, which he delivered to Lee. Another de Toledo staff member, Ellen Brown, who manages donor and alumni relations, found a package of 10 masks, which she also got to Lee. Lee delivered them to her hospital’s command center.
Mark Shpall also responded to a call from the addiction treatment center Beit T’Shuvah. “They put up on their Facebook page that they were in dire need of cleaning supplies, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soap,” he said. “We had all this sitting around because we have no people here. My maintenance staff filled up a big van with 20 boxes of different supplies that I drove down there.”
“I’m not good at sitting around,” he added. “It gave me something to do that I felt was helpful to everyone else. I have to say in some ways it was a little selfish. It gave me a purpose.”
However, he added, “This isn’t about me. Our mission is to raise the next generation of Jewish leaders who go out and make a difference in the world. … We talk about all of our students graduating from our internal course of AP kindness. It’s a life course. It is the course they receive by being here for four years. And I thought this was just one more way for me and the school to model for our school community how we can be kind to others especially in difficult moments.”
Since Mark Shpall and Lee connected, both have been on a mission, independently, to reach out to other individuals and organizations that may have supplies sitting around that health care workers and first responders desperately need. Shpall sent an email to the head of every Jewish school in the country as well as the heads of many independent schools throughout the state, basically stating: “Hey, we realized we had these in our emergency supplies. Do the same thing,” he said. “And I heard back from a number of schools.”
Added Lee, “I have been saying kindness is infectious. I have been saying that to everybody. Even though this virus is infectious, so is kindness. A mitzvah goes a long way.”