Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.
Straight from their laptops at home, a group of UT students is running a fundraiser to support the medical community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of the Student Government organization Longhorn Legislative Aides created Project Protect in late March, a fundraiser to provide health care workers with personal protective equipment. All funds raised will be donated to Direct Relief, a nonprofit distributing protective gear to health care workers in over 30 countries including the United States, according to Direct Relief’s website.
Project Protect has raised about $4,200 and has a goal of reaching $10,000 by May 1, said Krisha Tripathy, one of the fundraiser’s founders.
“Health care workers are one of the most vulnerable populations through this pandemic because they're constantly putting themselves in a situation where they can get the virus,” said Tripathy, a biochemistry honors freshman. “Our mission is to protect those who are selflessly working to protect us.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, many U.S. health care facilities are having difficulty acquiring protective gear such as facemasks, goggles and surgical gowns. Personal protective equipment shortages pose a tremendous challenge to the health care system, forcing health care workers to reuse or extend the use of gear, according to the website.
“It's disheartening that people who are working to protect us are not receiving the protection they deserve (while) fearing their own safety,” Tripathy said. “These health care workers are our families, friends (and) teachers’ families — they aren’t just doctors or emergency care workers. … It's important we step up to provide them with the protection they need.”
Inspired by devastating news stories she read about health care workers and her father’s experience as a doctor in a local clinic, Tripathy coined the idea of Project Protect so students can help their communities without leaving their homes. The fundraising group already has over 50 people involved, including current and incoming students from UT, Harvard and Stanford, Tripathy said.
"You don't need to be in a position of power to make a difference,” fundraiser co-founder Huy Le said. "Students can truly make a difference when they’re passionate about something. UT has fostered such an amazing community that everyone feels they're powerful with people around them who are just as driven to make changes."
Nursing freshman Le said the COVID-19 pandemic has made him more determined to solidify his dreams of becoming a community nurse. He said Project Protect allows him to raise awareness about the risks health care workers face when reusing equipment because of shortages.
“I’ll be in this field in the future, (so) I hope I’d get the protection I should,” Le said. “We have learned from this pandemic that we’re not really prepared, and it’s a lesson for us to become more prepared if this happens again. This has inspired me to raise awareness of the conditions around us and bring (health care workers) the protection they deserve.”
Le said the group plans to continue supporting communities with aid after the fundraiser ends.
Braelynn Barborka, a co-founder of the fundraiser and government freshman, said Project Protect is a positive initiative to result from the pandemic because it shows students can work through this tough time by helping others.
“At one point these medical workers were students in college who were in our shoes,” Barborka said. “As students, we need to show support and that we’re here to help in any way we can during this tough time.”