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Del Oro senior earns Eagle with major medical supply donation to Tonga

By: Kathy Maynard, Loomis News Correspondent
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An Eagle Scout service project turned a Del Oro senior into a celebrity in the South Pacific. When Taylor Butterfield, 18, decided to send medical supplies to Tonga, an archipelago of 176 islands, to earn his Eagle Scout ranking, he had no idea he’d get to spend spring break there. After taking eight months to plan, organize, and pack and ship more than $250,000 worth of medical supplies to Tonga, Butterfield was invited to visit the hospitals on the islands of Eua and Niua where his donations will go. “It was a neat experience. I felt pretty important,” Butterfield said. Initially, he intended to send supplies to the South Pacific island of Vanuatu because some family friends knew a doctor there who needed them. Butterfield knew supplies were available though MedShare, a nonprofit organization in San Leandro, which collects surplus medical supplies and equipment and donates them to healthcare facilities in developing countries. His grandfather, Van Johnson, of Loomis, the former chief executive officer of Sutter Health, had shipped a container to Tonga the year before. Butterfield’s first step was to raise enough money to ship a container to his destination. He personally met with the presidents of Sutter Health and Adventist Health, and they pledged $20,000 and $5,000, respectively. Next, he obtained a list of supplies available at MedShare and sent it to the doctor in Vanuatu. “But we found out we’d have to pay taxes on the supplies and had to switch locations. So we emailed the person my Grandpa knew in Tonga and asked if they’d like another container,” Butterfield said. Because the officials in Tonga knew the value of the donation, they jumped right in to fill out the list of supplies they needed and facilitate the process, Johnson said. List in hand, Butterfield gathered a group of kids from his Boy Scouts of America Troop 203 and church to go down to the MedShares warehouse on Jan. 14 to sort and package the items they needed, he said. The 1,000 boxes they loaded into the container covered over half of Tonga’s medical supply budget for the year. “John Pilcher, Taylor’s Scout Master, was really instrumental in helping to make this work,” said his mother, Jerilyn Butterfield. “He not only kept Taylor on track to meet all his deadlines and organize his Scouting records, but when the kids went down to the warehouse, he took his motor home and his company donated all the food and the gas.” Three days later, Lord Tuita, the Consulate General of Tonga, honored Butterfield at a ceremony in San Francisco before the shipment left, and presented him with a framed tapa cloth in the shape of a turtle. “It’s very special, hand-made from the bark of a tree, so to have him give it to me was a really big deal,” Butterfield said. But it wasn’t until Butterfield traveled to Tonga with his grandfather on Feb. 21 to 28 that he began to realize how huge his project was to the people of Tonga, said Johnson. “They treated him like royalty. He was on national television, watched a soccer game and met a Tongan Scout Troop,” he said. It made his project mean so much to see that there really was a need, said Jerilyn Butterfield. They have just one doctor for the entire hospital, wash their gloves, sterilize their gauze to reuse it and lock up the empty mattresses because people walk off with them. “I didn’t realize people actually lived that way. It was an eye-opener, we have it so good here it’s unbelievable,” Butterfield said.