When COVID-19 struck, West Michigan’s generosity and compassion shined

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The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in monumental challenges for society. But, as is often the case in times of crisis, it also spurred powerful acts of solidarity, adaptability and innovation.

You need look no further than West Michigan to see this in action. Acts of giving are deeply ingrained in our community ethos. As the scope of the crisis became clear, Grand Rapidians rose to the challenge with strength and resolve.

Grand Rapids is home to world-class health care and emergency response organizations, and we owe a great deal of thanks to the critical frontline workers who continue to do life-saving work and the essential workers who kept needed services up and running. We also are blessed to have a diverse regional economy that quickly adapted to support these critical industries and address quickly evolving societal needs.

Our manufacturing sector stepped up to produce materials like protective masks and gloves for health care workers, as well as critical parts for ventilators. Local distilleries and breweries swiftly shifted gears to produce much-needed hand sanitizer in response to shortages early on in the pandemic. These are just a few examples that showcase the spirit of West Michigan.

Van Andel Institute also forged ahead into the rapidly changing landscape, and we continue to actively seek ways to support our community and further our collective understanding of COVID-19. Van Andel Institute Graduate School students reviewed thousands of research articles published in scientific journals to pinpoint useful information that may guide care of COVID-19 patients in Grand Rapids and nationally. The Institute also shared laboratory equipment to help with testing and donated coolers to assist with specimen transport.

VAI’s expert educators created a number of free, online learning resources to help families and teachers who were affected by abrupt school closures. Among these resources were a curated list of science experiments that could be conducted at home and a virtual project called “Prevent the Spread,” where students could learn about how they could help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Much of the Institute’s research into diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s has continued remotely since March. Onsite lab research that can’t be done remotely has ramped back up in accordance with state and federal guidelines to ensure physical distance and safe workplace practices. In many ways, this pandemic and the efforts to find treatments and a vaccine have heightened public awareness about the importance of biomedical research. The urgency that fuels scientists researching COVID-19 is familiar to us at VAI — it’s the same drive that has long empowered us to search for the root causes of diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s, as well as potential new therapies and even cures.

Though COVID-19 has created many hurdles for us all, it has been inspiring to watch the West Michigan community face this shared challenge head-on with compassion and generosity. Brighter days lie ahead. VAI is proud to stand with the community that has been our home for many years, and your continued support emboldens us to keep focus on the important work we do every day.

David Van Andel is chairman and CEO of Van Andel Institute

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