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COVID-19 pandemic spurs spirit of giving and volunteering among Atlantans

Cover photo: Dr Anu and Dr Subra Bhat with Henry County police.

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE

Atlanta, GA, May 15, 2020: Even as uncertainty reigns supreme in these unprecedented times, the silver lining has been the unveiling of humanity in various forms. Be it well established nonprofit organizations, kids who felt the need to serve society or women who gathered for the greater good, a sense of service and empathy, surely has helped maneuver the crises with a compassionate compass.

In our series, Giving, Dil Se in the time of COVID-19, featuring contributions of the Indian-American community, we present to you the charitable acts of individuals and organizations who have donated their time, money and services.

The Subra Anu and Kiran Bhat Foundation has been donating generously for various causes and support events across Atlanta. Is giving any different during Covid times? “It is always a gratifying experience to donate to less privileged whether it is COVID related or not. Unfortunately, some form of tragedy or crisis always exists during our life process and COVID 19 is only one of them,” said Dr. Anu Bhat, of the foundation.

The foundation has donated in various capacities to GAPI, NKK, student scholarships, Henry County Police, Henry county workers, Rotary Club of Clayton County, Stanley Med College Alumni Association, Hindu Temple of Atlanta, Shankar Cancer hospital, Bangalore, NAVIKA, Clayton state University, Sree Krishna Vrundavana temple and Kannada Koota of South Florida.

“We are planning a food drive for Miami police department, food donation to Haven House for battered women and children which is still in process,” said Dr. Bhat.

Global shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) including medical gloves, gowns, respirators and shields for hospital staff and essential workers has been an ongoing issue since the onset of the pandemic. Many individuals and organizations have tried to address this issue in various capacities.

Kavita Kar

Kavita Kar, a sophomore at Wheeler High School in Marietta initiated a fundraiser raising $6000 to distribute 3000 masks. The dedicated teenager ensured the quality of the masks she delivered met FDA standards.

Shocked to learn about a cardiologist neighbor affected by COVID-19, who was working without PPE, Kavita soon realized he was not alone. “It broke my heart to know that medical workers, who put their lives at risk to serve our community, don’t have the right gear to protect themselves, their families, and their patients.”

She decided to start a fundraiser to buy N95 masks with overwhelming support from friends, school, teachers, neighbors and even strangers.

Determined to do the job right, Kavita ensured the legitimacy of masks starting with ensuring that the supplier had legitimate documentation for the company and the product. She also verified to make sure the product had CE certification and/or FDA registrations. She also cross-checked the company name and product with an online FDA database.

Various hurdles she encountered included imports of masks being stopped at US Customs, changing government regulations, price gouging, and poor quality among others. “One woman requested me to send her a 50% deposit before she would show me any paperwork, and told me that this was the only way to buy,” a proposition Kavitha almost agreed to, only to discover that company listed on the shipping box was different from the company listed on the certifications.

She also encountered a number of bad actors who showed her photoshopped conformity certificates, and others that had different products listed from what they were actually sending.

Having received one of her shipments on May 1, 2020, Kavita successfully delivered the masks to Emory, WellStar Kennestone, multiple nursing homes in and around the Greater Atlanta Area. She is now part of the COVID-19 collaborative, a group of volunteers across America trying to source PPE.

“I am incredibly thankful to our healthcare workers on the frontline. Their heroic sacrifice to work during this time is incredible,” she said.

Masks made by a group of women from the Kerala area.

Addressing the issue of PPEs, a group of over 25 women from Kerala decided to help by making and distributing cotton masks to support hospital frontline staff. So far, they have donated over 700 cotton masks and caps to Dekalb Emory Hospital, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Dekalb Medical Center, Emory Midtown Hospital, Northside Hospital, and Lilburn Middle School staff.

They also used some of its funds to support the Food Drive for Clarkston based refugee center.

“The medical staff who received the same thanked the effort and they felt very grateful that the Indo-American community really stood up to the ask of sharing and caring for the hospital community when it mattered the most. Many people are facing uncertainty and we are especially concerned about the medical staff and will do our best to help,” said Beena Philipose and Binu Kasim who are leading the effort.

The key volunteers in this effort include Noorjahan Abdul Salam, Jesna Joji and friends, Sheena Binu, Uma Anil, Praseetha Sandeep, Anju Ratheesh, Leelama Eapen, Divya Lakshmanan, Geetha Thomas, Kamini Reddy, Shone Jacob and Friends, Shiny Santhosh, Laila Melethe, Sajitha Unni, Liji Jophy and Salini Shajeev.

Philipose and Kasim thanked all the volunteers who helped with the financial aid towards this effort and are hoping to continue the same level of support throughout this outbreak period.

As of May 14, 2020, 4,464,726 people have been infected with the virus, 299,418 have lost lives, and 1,678,306 have recovered worldwide. In the US, 1,432,086 have been infected, 85,268 have lost lives, and 310,383 have recovered.

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