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Businesses helping out in fight against COVID-19

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford picks up a donation of 90,000 face masks from Dental Brands, one of the Jewish businesses helping in the fight against COVID-19. (Mike Lauterpacht photo)

You’ve probably already seen the picture – Ontario Premier Doug Ford personally driving his pickup truck to, well, pick up a load of 90,000 face masks that were donated to the province by Markham, Ont.-based dental supply company Dental Brands. But what you may not have known is that Dental Brands is a Jewish-run organization.

“The CEO is Israeli. A lot of our staff is Jewish.… I like to say we’re more of a United Nations here, because we have all different types of people, different types of religions working here. But I would say the strongest ethnic group is Jews. Despite our size, we try and operate like a family business,” said Mike Lauterpacht, the company’s vice-president of operations. “The ethics or the morale that we grow up with in a Jewish home, that extends beyond the business we do on a day-to-day basis.”

Dental Brands donated 100,000 masks in total, with 10,000 going to police, as well as 4,600 bottles of hand sanitizer. Lauterpacht and the company’s CEO were discussing how they could help fight the coronavirus when a friend who knew Ford happened to reach out. Lauterpacht said to pass on the message that they wanted to donate their supplies, and after that it came together “crazy fast.” Before he knew it, he was talking to Ford on the phone, and then the premier, whom Lauterpacht said came across as a “down-to-earth guy who really wanted to help,” was coming to pick up the masks.

Lauterpacht said Dental Brands wanted to help give back in part because the community had been so supportive in continuing to buy their stock as dental offices started to close. Of course, they also wanted to play their part in the effort, and knew they had a unique opportunity to make a tangible difference.

“I think that the more that we help each other, the more we’re going to beat this virus. I think that’s something we’re seeing, forget about what we did here. Wherever you are, (whether) it’s helping your neighbour or someone else checking on your parents, because you can’t,” he said. “Living in the Jewish community, that’s something that I think is integral to who and what we are, community-type people… so giving back makes sense.”

Other Jewish-run Canadian businesses have also been doing their part to aid in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. In Toronto, Amexon Development Corp., which is run by Joe Azouri, is offering free accommodation to doctors and nurses at its Grand Hotel & Suites property in downtown Toronto.

“Front-line doctors and nurses in nearby hospitals are working tirelessly to keep us all safe, and Amexon is pleased to offer a comfortable facility so they can get much-needed rest and avoid long commutes. We hope we can be of help since our hotel is conveniently located near the major downtown hospitals,” said general manager Heidi Wengle in a press release emailed to The CJN. “We see this initiative as our civic duty and acknowledge the efforts of those who are continuing to work long days and nights to keep patients safe and COVID-19 at bay. We will do whatever it takes to help make the hotel stay for these heroes feel like a home away from home.”

In a follow-up email, a spokesperson for Amexon confirmed that the hotel made 177 rooms on separate floors available for the health-care workers, and that, as of March 31, many had already booked rooms in the hotel.

Another business that modified its operations because of the coronavirus is Samuelsohn, a menswear company in Montreal. Stephen Granovsky, CEO and principal owner of the company, said it is in discussions with the government about producing both surgical masks and gowns in its factory in Montreal. He said senior civil servants in Quebec’s Department of Health first forecasted a shortage of gowns and then masks, and so the revamped factories will be focused on those items.

So far, the biggest hurdle hasn’t been preparing the factories, but actually sourcing the material for the protective equipment. It was only in the last week that Samuelsohn was able to source a sufficient supply of the specific fabric that best protects against fluid and bacteria. Granovsky estimates the factory will be able to make more than 250,000 masks a week in each factory, and while it’s too early to accurately estimate the rate for gowns, he said it will certainly be more than tens of thousands a week. As high as those numbers seem, Granovsky said a typical mid-sized hospital would have used around 15,000 masks a day before the virus.

It’s a big change, but Granovsky makes it seem like there was never any other choice for him to make.

“It is an incredibly rewarding experience …. It’s an opportunity for our people to have work, because obviously our factories are shut down,” he said. And beyond that, “It’s a call to duty, and there’s really nothing more important than whatever we can do to produce protective equipment…. It’s far more than our duty. It’s really an obvious opportunity to make a contribution that I don’t know that I’ll ever get to make in my lifetime again.”

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