Published May 18, 2020
A chance meeting in an East Aurora Rite Aid parking lot has led to a donation of hundreds of masks to UB students ─ and a promise of more to come.
Judy Augustyniak, whose son, Kevin, owns a business selling surgical masks to U.S. hospitals and medical personnel, was leaving Rite Aid the afternoon of April 30 when she saw a “PHD RN” license plate on a car parked nose-to-nose to hers in the parking lot.
“Miss, miss,” Augustyniak called to the driver, who had gotten out of the car to enter the drug store. “Are you a nurse?”
Augustyniak told the woman that her son had 2,500 surgical masks he was looking to donate. Did she know anyone who could use some?
Unbeknownst to Augustyniak, the woman with the PHD RN plates was Janice Jones, clinical professor and coordinator of the School of Nursing’s nursing leadership and health care systems program. Jones knew the nursing school needed thousands of these masks for its students.
She left with a box of 50 three-ply surgical masks ─ the kind health care providers wear in hospitals ─ that Augustyniak had in her car. Augustyniak left with Jones’ business card, which she immediately gave to her son, who has been staying with her in her East Aurora home after he was unable to return to his job in China. Kevin Augustyniak called Jones that day and the following day ─ May 1 ─ the pair met in the same drug store parking lot, where Augustyniak gave Jones 10 boxes, each containing 50 masks.
“We are using them for our students who have to go into the hospitals,” says Jones. “We also use them for our students when we teach them how to use this equipment: how to put them on, how to take them off and how to dispose of them.”
Augustyniak clearly has enjoyed the encounter.
“This gave me a tremendous amount of satisfaction because at this time, there are so many people in need,” says Augustyniak, 51, who started his company in mid-March and since then has distributed 4 million masks throughout the U.S.
“It’s a small token. It’s such a good feeling to me if I can do something small and make an impact to help people get through this crisis.”
Augustyniak, who grew up in East Aurora, has lived in China for the past 15 years, working as a consultant for a company called BrilliantPad that makes an indoor automatic dog potty that secures waste from dogs without owners having to pick up after their pets.
He had returned to East Aurora in January to visit his parents for the Chinese New Year, then delayed his return to China when the COVID-19 epidemic started to peak there. Then the situation in China worsened, and foreigners were banned from returning.
“That two-week home visit turned into a two-week delay, and now has become a months-long vacation,” said Augustyniak.
The unexpected stay has proven to be beneficial for Augustyniak, the School of Nursing and other health agencies. While he waited in Western New York, officials he knew from a company that makes the paper for BrilliantPad sent Augustyniak an email. They were making surgical masks at the request of the Chinese government. Did Augustyniak need any?
“They weren’t asking about starting a business or selling them,” says Augustyniak. “They were concerned about my safety. They were willing to send a box (of masks) to the U.S.”
Augustyniak asked for 500 masks. He gave them to friends and family, and quickly became aware of the need. Using his business contacts with paper suppliers in China, he started placing orders there. He and two other partners have since started a company, Chicago PPE, and have sold ─ under market value, he says ─ about 4 million masks to hospitals, nursing homes and other U.S. facilities.
In addition to the 500 masks donated to UB, Augustyniak has sent 1,000 to Elderwood nursing homes, and promises another 1,000 to the VA Western New York Healthcare System.
Jones says the School of Nursing will need about 5,000 masks for the summer and fall semester. Augustyniak told UBNow he would try to add to his initial donation.
Jones’ initial encounter with Judy Augustyniak made her believe something special was going on in that parking lot. Kevin Augustyniak’s recent offer to give UB more masks has underscored that feeling.
“It totally took me by surprise,” says Jones. “I said, ‘You know, God has a hand in this.’ This wasn’t necessarily a chance encounter. My angels have planned this.”