By Sherry DiBari

When Gov. Ralph Northam announced 30,000 medical and nonmedical volunteers were needed for the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), Old Dominion University was already in line to help.

Some students, like Erika Thornton, who graduated in May, have been in the MRC system for a long time.

Thornton spent the past two years volunteering with the MRC. She said the process was easy and efficient. After joining the MRC, Thornton received her identification and began her first of three mandatory online trainings that same night.

The volunteer work Thornton has done for the MRC included medical screenings, food drives and food distributions, and events for the elderly.

Thornton said one benefit for students is MRC's free online classes and courses to improve education in specific areas.

The MRC is composed of 22 volunteer teams of medical and public health professionals and community members who work with public health initiatives and assist during emergencies throughout Virginia.

When the COVID-19 crisis began and the governor called for volunteers, other ODU students began to join the MRC.

"Over the past month we have had 20 public health students in the MRC and we are constantly increasing our numbers," said Muge Akpinar-Elci, professor and chair of the School of Community & Environmental Health in the College of Health Sciences. "We have at least three faculty working and volunteering with them."

Because of COVID-19 closures, planned internships were suspended or canceled. Many of the students in the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health (BSEH) program are fulfilling their internships by volunteering with MRC.

"As a school of community and environmental health, we are using MRC as our internship and practicum site," Akpinar-Elci said.

Pamela Edwards, a BSEH student, joined the MRC on March 15.

When the call went out for volunteers for the COVID-19 call center, located at the Norfolk Public Health Center, she signed up and was there on the first day.

"We take calls from the public giving them information concerning the symptoms of COVID-19, location and times for the testing centers and information on the executive orders from Gov. Northam," Edwards said.

In an interview with WVEC, Edwards said she would go anywhere she was needed.

"I'm not afraid of doing it, I just love helping people," Edwards said. "I'm grateful to say I have not had any personal loss due to COVID-19. But even if I did, that would even give me more eagerness to assist others."

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