LIVINGSTON, NJ — When Livingston High School (LHS) freshmen sisters Kristen and Renee Ngai and their friend Annie Chi came to the realization that homeless individuals are likely struggling to afford personal protection equipment (PPE) this winter, they embarked on a mission to collect masks and sanitizers for them.

After partnering with Bridges Outreach, an organization serving the homeless in New York City, Newark, Irvington and Summit, the trio designed a website and developed a video asking for donations that has been posted on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Nextdoor in an effort to reach as many people as possible.

Although the social media posts quickly garnered many Likes and comments, the teens only received one box of masks from a friend and hope to inspire others to contribute. Their latest strategy has been to contact PPE manufacturers and distributors directly according to a list of brand names they collected from a local pharmacy.

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“To convince the manufacturers to donate the masks and sanitizers, we emphasized the importance of these donations in an email and described the mission of Bridges Outreach,” said Kristen, adding that they have offered to post the names of participating companies on their websites along with statistics about how face masks help to limit the spread of COVID-19.

According to Kristen, the direct Email campaign was extremely successful, resulting in donations of 5,000 masks and 100 sanitizers after contacting 150 companies. For easy distribution, she and her sister then created 2,000 individual COVID-19 Prevention Packs consisting of supplies. They also donated nearly 100 masks to the Atlantic Health System.

“To express my greatest gratitude to the companies that donated, I created a thank you letter reminding them about the importance of PPE among the homeless and thanking them once again for their support,” said Kristen.

Kristen shared that the impetus to work on this PPE project came from seeing the COVID-19 cases in the United States spike dramatically while other countries, particularly in, Asia have been able to contain the novel coronavirus.

Realizing that officials may have overlooked the homeless population’s inability to obtain PPE during the pandemic, Kristen noted that “some of them might even be super spreaders of the virus without knowing it.”

During their research, the teens learned about a COVID-19 outbreak at the Multi-Service Center homeless shelter in San Francisco that led to a 12-percent surge in positive cases in that city and became the largest outbreak in a single shelter in the country.

The teens also read about a homeless woman named Connie who was terrified that she and her immunocompromised daughter would contract COVID-19. According to Kristen, the woman, who could afford food but not face coverings, was relieved to have the protection when she received them.

“This gave us an idea that if we are able to provide enough masks and hand sanitizers to the homeless, we will be able to address their unmet needs and might also be able to indirectly curb the spread of this virus in our community,” said Kristen. “By reducing the number of infected homeless people, we can also ease the burden of COVID-19 cases on hospitals and reduce the overall healthcare costs in the community.”

Paul Rebecca, the volunteer manager for Bridges, expressed his gratitude toward the trio via Email, thanking the three freshmen for their “leadership on this initiative.”

“Homeless people seldom receive masks or hand sanitizers, and they are a vulnerable population because they congregate,” he said.

Although helping the homeless population was one of their objectives, Kristen reiterated that she, her sister and Chi also want to motivate others to give back.

“My ultimate goal is to inspire others to spread kindness and make a difference in the community during these unprecedented times,” said Kristen.

The teens are now collecting supplies of PPE for University of Southern California Verdugo Hills Hospital, Arbor Roseland Assisted Living, Philabundance and Fulfill NJ.

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