By Kirk Petersen

By using supply-chain management skills learned at Ground Zero after 9/11, a Manhattan Episcopalian has built an organization that is providing thousands of New York City health-care workers with PPE — personal protection equipment.

The group is called Cut Red Tape 4 Heroes, and it’s run by Rhonda Roland Shearer, who is a sculptor. The group’s storefront is a large van emblazoned with signs saying “Show your hospital ID, get free PPEs.”

Rhonda Roland Shearer demonstrates the use of facemasks

On July 8, the van pulled into the parking lot at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Queens, and people in scrubs and other hospital attire quickly began to line up. Before the day was done, Shearer and a group of volunteers would distribute 20 gallons of hand sanitizer and more than 7,900 face shields, surgical masks and other protective gear to 500 hospital employees and 100 people from the surrounding community.

To date, the group has distributed PPE to more than 106,000 people in all five boroughs of New York City and in Newark, through 22 distributions at hospitals.

St. John’s Hospital, which is owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, “made us feel very welcome,” Shearer said. That has not always been the case. She said one hospital refused to cooperate because “they didn’t like the optics of people getting PPE, because they want people to believe that everybody has everything.”

St. John’s spokesperson Nancy Leghart said the hospital is able to keep up with supplying PPE for people at work, but she’s happy that Cut Red Tape 4 Heroes is providing equipment the workers can use in their personal lives.

The hospital was the subject of a moving 12-minute video produced by the New York Times in May, at the height of the crisis for New York City. Leghart said “things have calmed down substantially since then,” and the hospital is encouraging patients to come in for any non-emergency care they have been postponing.

Shearer’s first experience with distributing PPE came after 9/11, when she and her daughter started the WTC Ground Zero Relief project, serving the rescue and healthcare workers who were digging through the rubble. When it became clear that lack of PPE was a huge problem in the current pandemic, she got back in touch with former suppliers.

“She had connections, she had a financial infrastructure through which she could make it happen,” said the Rev. Matthew Moretz, associate rector at Saint Thomas Fifth Avenue. “She put a lot of her own money forward.” The church has helped by locating volunteers for the group.

“Right at the beginning, before Cut Red Tape 4 Heroes was even named, the church stepped up and purchased a significant amount of hand sanitizer” to keep Staten Island homeless shelters open, Shearer said.

Shearer tapped a home equity line of credit for $1,000,000 in seed money to get the organization launched, and plans to pay off the loan through a GoFundMe appeal and other fundraising. So far, 5,000 donors have given more than $461,000 to the cause. She had taken out similar loans after 9/11.

When asked if she was concerned that she might not recover all the money she put up, she said simply, “No. I’ve got faith.”