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Extreme volunteerism: Intel Principal Engineer Mike Espig helps coronavirus patients who need it most

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This was posted on behalf of Walden Kirsch.  Walden is a longtime Portland-area journalist. For the last 20 years, he has covered business and technology worldwide for Intel. 

Mike Espig is an Intel principal engineer and Xeon CPU architect with 15 patents to his name. A 26-year Intel veteran, he has quietly assumed a unique place in the long tradition of Intel volunteerism.  Espig was volunteering with the Washington County Crisis Center when he was asked to quickly open a COVID recovery shelter because hospitals had nowhere to send homeless people who tested positive for COVID-19. He jumped into action with the help of Washington County officials to turn a closed-down hotel property into a shelter for homeless and at-risk individuals

“I will remember this for the rest of my life.” That’s what Mike Espig says of his recent experiences.

Like the night a few weeks ago when Mike helped a man named Chris* who was suffering from the coronavirus. He had stopped eating and his weight had plunged to what Mike judged was about 60 pounds.

“He could barely walk,” Espig says. “He was dying. I carried him to the ambulance.”

His passion for helping those less fortunate was sparked last winter volunteering in Sherwood, Oregon, at the  St. Francis Catholic Church’s homeless shelter. There, he had been inspired by the good he felt feeding and caring for homeless people, getting them out of the Oregon cold and rain. And he’d started partnering with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and other local officials, reaching out to homeless folks in tent camps. Mike had impressed officials with his organizational and logistical skills. (“Do you work at Intel or something?” one person asked.)

Then the coronavirus hit the U.S. hard.

Homeless shelters were shuttering. That’s when the leader of the Washington County Crisis Center asked him: “Can you open a shelter in 72 hours?” It would house local homeless folks with positive coronavirus tests and those awaiting results.

He and his team of volunteers and staff paid by local government funding have taken over two wings of the 114-room Comfort Inn and Suites in Hillsboro after the county cut a deal with the hotel chain’s owner when room occupancy dropped to essentially zero.

“It’s like working in a hot zone,” Mike says of his work. He moved into the hotel for about a month to ensure it was up and running smoothly.

To avoid any possible contagion to his family, his two teenage boys have been staying with their mom, and he talks with them regularly on the phone. “I do miss them,” Mike says.

At the hotel, Mike wears full personal protective gear when helping the roughly 30 homeless coronavirus-positive guests who’ve passed through. Everyone is quarantined in their rooms.

He helped arrange for the county jail staff and Meals on Wheels to bring his patients breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

All the while, he’s been juggling Intel work, using gaps in his calendar to coordinate hotel operations, order supplies, and so on. “I am blessed to work at a company that supports my efforts, and a manager who is supportive.”

Alex* is one of the Mike’s homeless, coronavirus-positive guests. Alex recently celebrated his 70th birthday. Already low on money and working odd jobs, Alex failed to make rent in December, and was suddenly out on the street for the first time in his life. He was riding the buses to stay warm, trying to doze in public libraries. Then he caught the coronavirus. Briefly hospitalized, he’s trying to recover at the shelter Mike runs. He is indoors, dry, and fed.

“I am tremendously appreciative of Mike’s efforts for the homeless in general, and for me personally,” Alex said in a Zoom interview from his hotel room. “I feel very fortunate I’m not on the street.”

Learn more about Intel Heroes and how our employees go above and beyond for their community:  https://blogs.intel.com/jobs/2020/05/intel-heros-3/#gs.6al7bo

*Name have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual