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VA Staff Volunteers Help Veterans, Others with Spinal Cord Injuries During Pandemic

Man with donated personal hygiene products
Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) volunteers have safely delivered more than $6,000 worth of grant-funded food and personal hygiene items to Pittsburgh area Veterans and others with spinal cord injuries (SCI) during the coronavirus pandemic.

Thanks to individual grants and Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) volunteers, Pittsburgh area Veterans and others with spinal cord injuries (SCI) are safely getting food and personal hygiene items during the coronavirus pandemic.

The grants from the Craig H. Neilson Foundation (CHNF) provide people with SCIs or their caretakers a Giant Eagle gift card. So far, HERL volunteers have helped 15 individuals use $6,000 for food and personal hygiene items, said Army Veteran Josh Marino, HERL’s education and outreach coordinator.

“The recipients of these funds have been extremely grateful. The COVID-19 crisis has proven challenging for everyone, and every little bit of assistance we have been able to offer has been appreciated,” Marino said.

Marino, who is leading the effort, said HERL contacts grant recipients to determine the extent of assistance they need. Some require intensive volunteer services, while others might just need help transporting an online order. If necessary, Marino and other lab volunteers will purchase and deliver items to recipients’ homes.

Home delivery can be a lifesaver to people with SCIs: Many have weakened immune systems, heart disease, diabetes and other physical factors that make them at higher risk for complications if they contract COVID-19.

HERL, a VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and University of Pittsburgh partnership, and the foundation have similar goals of improving access, mobility and quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities.

“HERL has an extended history of cooperation with, and funding from, CHNF,” Marino said. “They have worked with us to advance the interests of individuals with disabilities in a number of ways over the years.”

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