CWRU graduate helps form "Give Essential" to assist essential workers

Posted at 9:26 PM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 21:26:25-04

CLEVELAND — A recent graduate of Case Western Reserve University has partnered with students from Dartmouth College to help essential workers across the U.S., and you can help them in their mission, called Give Essential.

Crystal An, who graduated from CWRU in 2019 and will begin attending medical school there this fall, recently flew back from living in Asia on a gap year, during which she saw COVID-19 escalate.

When she came back to the U.S., An said she had a "really strong desire" to do something to help the community, but she wasn't sure how to do that without leaving her home.

"Especially with my connections to the medical field, I have friends on the front line fighting as nurses, and medical school friends who are helping with contact tracing and COVID hotlines," An said. "But without any medical training yet, I just felt at a loss for how to make a positive impact in the struggle that we’re all facing."

An reconnected with a high school friend, Amy Guan, who is a senior at Dartmouth College. Guan and her roommate, Rine Uhm, had taken a social entrepreneurship class in college that spurred them to think about ways they could help out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I ended up reading a lot about essential workers and how they were being treated," Guan said of the time she spent at home after coming back from Dartmouth. "I decided to use my extra time and the extra energy I now had because of remote classes to come up with a way to create something a little more positive in the situation."

Guan and Uhm, with help from An a few days later, formed Give Essential. The women describe it as a "peer-to-peer matching platform" that connects people with items to donate to the essential workers who need them.

"When we started reading and researching more about essential workers and sort of the things that they need, one of the biggest things we noticed that, what would really help them and what they really needed were some basic necessities that I think a lot of people do have extras of at home," Guan said.

Guan said that includes soap, shampoo and lotion, adding, "I know at least in my family, we sort of hoard these hotel toiletries and we just have them in our closet."

Other things people need include kids' toys and other household items.

Since launching last week, Give Essential has reached more than 1,600 essential workers and has been able to fill more than half of the requests, according to An.

"I think there’s so many people out there who want to help others but don’t know how they can," An said. "And that’s the beauty and the utility of Give Essential, is that it empowers regular people like you and me who are stuck at home right now to make a direct impact in an essential worker’s life."

She added, "Especially in this time of isolation, to be able to make that type of connection and to build a sense of community around this is such a powerful experience."

Luiza Odhiambo, a junior at Dartmouth College, got involved with Give Essential the day it launched, helping the team with marketing and branding.

She said her mom is an essential worker and that she wanted to do whatever she could to help people like her family members stay safe.

"People really do want to help," Odhiambo said. "We’ve seen just an outpouring of support from donors across the entire country, and most of the donors that we’re seeing are taking more than one person. So we’ll see someone say, 'I can help five people or ten people,' or if it’s someone who doesn’t have any monetary and/or physical contributions, we’ve seen people say, 'Hey, I’m a kindergarten teacher, I’m a second grade teacher, I can donate my time to parents who need to keep their kids busy while they’re at work.'"

The students said in addition to making donations of items, time or money to essential workers, people can also help by volunteering, facilitating matches between donors and essential workers to make sure everyone's privacy is protected.

Guan said that the stories they've received make it evident how "one small donation can have an enormous impact on someone else’s life."

"There’s one woman who is living out of her car," Guan said. "She couldn’t pay rent, is now living out of her car. Every day, she’s relying on peanut butter tortillas for all of her meals, and even just giving her a grocery store gift card, or she also wrote in her story that she’s showering using water bottles every day, because she had no access to a shower, so getting her soap and shampoo and just any sort of resources would greatly impact her life."

For now, Give Essential plans to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and help "as many essential workers as possible." Afterward, Guan said, the team hopes to help people directly affected by COVID-19, such as those who have to pay hospital bills or who have experienced pay cuts or job loss.

"I think that gives us a lot of room to grow and a lot of room to expand and think about how we want to move forward," Guan said.

To learn more about Give Essential, click here.