For South Bay's Lue, Coronavirus Funding Isn't Up For Debate
LOS ALTOS, CA — An essay on Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” for her English class was due soon, and Angelina Lue couldn’t focus. In normal times, this literary masterpiece would have captivated the Los Altos High School junior. These aren’t normal times. When global pandemics strike, a retelling of the 17th century Salem witch trials can seem like old news.
And the more Lue learned about the new coronavirus outbreak, the less her schoolwork seemed to matter.
Especially alarming to Lue was the shortage of critical supplies that front line medical workers were experiencing, which she learned about first through news reports and, later, anecdotally through those she knew.
“One of my friends, his mom performed a coronavirus test on a patient with no mask,” she said.
That this could happen in one of the world’s wealthiest nations seemed unthinkable and unacceptable to Lue.
“Just sitting around and doing my homework that I was being assigned, I could not live with that,” she said.
Determined to do whatever she could to help, Lue took matters into her own hands.
She pitched the idea of starting an online fundraising drive to help address the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) to friends she’d made competing on the high school debating circuit from rival schools, as well as some friends from her school.
With nearly all Bay Area students practicing distanced learning at home in the first week of school closures, Lue set up a virtual meeting with Paulina Harding, a Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland junior, Sheryl Chen, a Menlo-Atherton freshman, and Alicia Yim and Marie Godderis (both Los Altos juniors)
The five Bay Area high school students put their wits together to launch a GoFundMe drive.
So far, it’s impossible to argue with the results.
Lue’s “Teens Fighting COVID-19” fundraising team garnered over $2,000 on its first full day after its March 22 launch, and more than $4,500 in its first week.
They’ve already distributed 2,500 surgical masks and have an additional 2,500 on hand they expect to deliver later this week. They’ve donated to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Stanford Medicine and El Camino Hospital-Mountain View. They plan to contribute masks to multiple Kaiser Permanente hospitals, too.
“We’re trying our best to get our community involved, and it’s been pretty cool to see a lot of people being supportive of it,” Lue said.
Lue first reached out to Harding, whom she knew from debating camp. Harding had experience doing advocacy work. Weeks earlier, she’d written the Diocese of Oakland for failing adhere to social distancing recommendations issued by public health officials, demanding that it close its schools.
Harding’s initial thought about Lue’s proposal was: Good idea, “but we couldn’t do anything about it because we were just at home.”
“We couldn’t go outside, so it was seemingly a hopeless situation for high schoolers who feel like we couldn’t take any action.”
Lue explained her plan to start a fundraising drive that would heavily emphasize social media to get their message out.
“I was like ‘absolutely,'” Harding said. “I hopped on a group call through FaceTime, and it took off really fast. We just started posting it and sharing the link with family.”
Chen was initially unaware of the extent to which Bay Area hospitals were grappling with a PPE shortage.
“I was shocked by that,” she said, “so I was really excited that we could have the opportunity to help people who were dealing with these COVID-19 patients.”
It didn’t hurt that Lue brought an entrepreneurial background to the project.
Lue runs her own clothing and accessories company. She was 13 when she launched Ivory Tees, which donates 20 percent of its profits to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a conservation group dedicated to protecting Africa’s wildlife habitat.
Lue launched the company after watching “The Ivory Game,” a Netflix documentary that brought attention to the impact of poaching and the multimillion-dollar ivory industry on the survival of the world’s largest land animals.
Her experience running a business gave her a head start. Having already developed relationships with manufacturers helped her navigate the wholesale market.
“It’s really important to have reliable partners, reliable people who will contact you back. It’s super important,” Lue said.
“It’s a lot more familiar because of that experience …. Just having that network from my previous endeavor definitely helped.”
So far, Lue has only purchased surgical masks, 4,000 from domestic sources and 1,000 from the international wholesale market that, although less expensive, take longer to ship. The urgent demand confronting frontline medical workers in this crisis makes it a delicate balancing act.
Lue hopes to also purchase N95 masks that doctors and nurses need to protect them when they’re in close proximity to COVID-19 patients, which are significantly more expensive. She’s spoken to some wholesalers about purchasing the more-protective masks but won’t buy them until she can verify their authenticity, which on the overseas market is no easy task even for the most discerning buyers.
“I have seen lots of fakes out there,” she said.
She’s also considering purchasing gowns and goggles, other critical PPE items that are in short supply.
Lue has brought on a social media team of 10 to promote the fund drive. She plans to keep it going until the PPE shortage no longer exists.
“At this point, we see the problem isn’t going to end for a while,” she said. “The more (PPE) we can get, the more we can help our local hospitals.”
Lue has maintained her idealism amid the grimmest of times. She monitors news developments closely and is cognizant of some of the projections for COVID-19 deaths in the United States and around the world.
“It’s not going well, unfortunately,” she said.
“All I can think about is trying to help people out who are putting their lives out for us and helping those who are on the front lines.”
At a time of uncertainty, fighting for those on the front lines of this crisis has provided an important outlet for high school students who might otherwise be stuck at home feeling helpless.
“If I checked out, that feels like a defeat,” Harding said.
“I think it’s given us a sense of purpose and a sense of control over a situation that’s unfortunately so out of control. I think that it would be eating away at me in quarantine if I wasn’t doing anything, because I’m privileged in many different ways and I recognize that privilege — and because of that, I think I feel obligated to do everything that I can.”
Lue believes the fundraising drive has given her a place to direct her energy.
Arthur Miller would probably understand that at this moment writing essays isn’t the most useful outlet.
“It’s making me feel motivated in ways that I wouldn’t necessarily be without it,” Lue said.
“We’re doing something good for society, and we’re trying to help other people, help support other people who are going to try to save us, people who save lives need saving, too, and the people who are literally exposing themselves and their babies — if they are pregnant — to this virus. We should be forever grateful, and this should be seen in action.”
To contribute to Teens Fighting COVID-19’s GoFundMe click here.
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