By Janice Nesamani
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Classrooms across the state are empty, malls and restaurants deserted, while freeways and parks show only a trickle of life. Beneath this eerily quiet cover, the state’s youth are stirring up a storm to reach out and help. Washington Youth for Masks is an initiative that was started by four students at Issaquah High School. Their aim is to source face masks to health care workers who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The idea came to Angelina Chin, who incidentally has family and friends in China that manufacture medical protective equipment. She reached out and was able to secure 50,000 surgical masks for health care workers in Washington state, shipped directly to her home.
“I heard many medical professionals were being asked to reuse masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). There is a huge shortage and I realized we couldn’t rely only on state and federal agencies to provide PPE. We needed a public initiative to help our health care workers,” Chin said.
Chin’s family in China had to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic earlier and she realized that a shortage of masks would hit America soon. Her mother, who works with Food with Love that provides meals for health care workers, was able to use her network of medical professional contacts to guide the girls to identify which hospitals needed urgent help.
Chin spoke about her idea to three of her close friends — Isha Rudramurthy, Faith Lee, and Claire Kang — who decided to pitch in and help pay for the masks and bring them to Washington.
“When Angelina told us she had secured about 50,000 masks but needed funds to pay for them and get them here, I really wanted to help,” Lee said. She helped spread the word, draft the campaign on social media, and speak to the media.
The foursome also used social media to spread the word, set up a website and organization committee, and rallied funds on GoFundMe to buy medical masks. Soon, they attracted a willing army of local student representatives across the state.
“Many have started small businesses such as tutoring, music lessons, writing blogs to spread the word, and selling clothes or crafts to raise funds,” Chin said.
This statewide response has really inspired Rudramurthy.
“We saw a lot of people stepping up, especially kids. A lot of us have seen young people acting irresponsibly and not following social distancing norms,” she said. “We felt helpless that we couldn’t stop them, but starting this initiative and bringing about actual physical change that will help slow the spread is really inspiring,” Rudramurthy added.
Within weeks, Washington Youth for Masks has raised around $17,000 and made a delivery of 24 large boxes of surgical masks to a grateful staff of medical practitioners at UW Medicine.
For Kang, helping out was personal. Before the pandemic, she volunteered at Issaquah Swedish Hospital and UW Medicine Center.
“I saw the impact the shortage of PPE equipment could have on doctors, patients, and everyone else on staff,” Kang said. “When the stay-at-home order was announced, I felt privileged that I could spend time with my family, but front-line health care workers have to work around the clock. The least I could do was to try and give back by providing PPE equipment,” she said.
“Handing over the masks and seeing the gratitude from people I’d worked with gave me a warm feeling. I spent a lot of my time in the summer volunteering there. I know how hard it can get. And if it is hard for volunteers, I can only imagine how hard it is for employees in these times,” she added.
The girls also have another motive behind their initiative and that is to show the Asian community in a positive light. Impacted by news, messages, and videos she saw on the news and online, Chin wants to raise awareness that this is not one race’s fault or one race’s disease.
“This is everyone’s fight and we have to unite. Our initiative tells everyone in the community that this is everyone’s fight and everyone has a role to play to stop the spread of the disease,” she said.
While the girls are trying to keep the momentum of their campaign going, they have chalked up plans for what they can do in case they reach their goal.
“We would like to expand offering PPE masks to smaller hospitals. We could also partner with local businesses to provide health care workers with meals or other services, it would be beneficial to the workers and also boost local businesses,” Kang said.
Contribute to Washington Youth for Masks’ campaign at gofundme.com/f/washington-youth-for-masks-covid19-support-fund/donate.
Janice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.