Category: Fall 2020, Georgetown Magazine

Title:Student volunteers fight for social justice, COVID-19 relief

Author: Kelly Anderson (SFS'23)
Date Published: November 18, 2020
LaHannah Giles (C’23), kneeling, with other March for the Hood volunteers, organized school supply drives in Chicago over the summer.

Amid the chaos of tear gas, rubber bullets, and cries of injured protestors, Ethan Greer (C’23) stood ready to help with bandages and disinfectant.

“There were fires everywhere, people screaming, clouds of tear gas—it was very horrific,” recalls Greer, who lives in Canton, Georgia, about 40 miles from Atlanta, where he worked as a volunteer medic helping protestors injured in confrontations with the police following the killing of George Floyd.

He is one of several Georgetown students who have been on the front lines of efforts to help during the coronavirus pandemic, racial injustice protests, and the economic downturn.

Greer was on the scene during several nights of protests in the Atlanta area in June and July following high-profile police killings, marching with activists during the day and helping to provide first aid at night.

He is trained in CPR and received basic first aid training but had never worked as a medic under such stressful conditions. “There were a lot of times when I wasn’t sure if we were going to get arrested or seriously hurt. We didn’t know if they were going to open fire with actual bullets, so that was really scary,” Greer says.

“The protests were, and are, very important and people will remember them for a long time. It was cool to be part of that,” he says.

Debating for change

Greer was not alone in his activism. After watching television coverage of Black Lives Matter protests, Bernard Medeiros (C’24) and Zidao Wang (C’24) knew they couldn’t wait any longer to help.

The two friends from Mequon, Wisconsin, were high school de- bate team partners, so they decided to use their shared hobby as a vehicle to help spur reform in the criminal justice system.

Medeiros and Wang teamed up with several other college students from across the country to offer debate tutoring, lectures, and feedback to high school students for a small fee. The group, Policy Coaching, donated all proceeds to the Bail Project, a nonprofit organization that helps pay bail for low-income people awaiting trial.

“We saw everyone trying to do their part and we wanted to do something that we had a unique angle on,” Wang says. “Trying to make bail payments has really disastrous consequences, especially on single mothers and people who have to work. It really disrupts their lives.”

The group held a series of lectures over Zoom; Wang and Medeiros also offered individual coaching sessions and provided feedback on debate speeches.

In total, Policy Coaching donated more than $1,200 to the Bail Project. “We thought it would have a large impact and the money could be recycled,” says Wang, who noted that funds for bail payments can be used again when defendants appear for their trial and the money is repaid.

Stepping up for communities in need

After Chicago Public Schools announced in July that they would reopen for in-person classes in the fall, LaHannah Giles (C’23) knew she had to help Chicago children have the needed materials for school.

CPS later reversed their decision and chose to have an all-virtual fall semester, but not before Giles started an organization called March for the Hood, which provided low-income students with donated school supplies and personal protective equipment.

Giles started March for the Hood after receiving a $5,000 grant from Chicago Scholars, a group that supports students in Chicago Public Schools.

She held a series of supply drives in partnership with several other Chicago nonprofits and distributed notebooks, backpacks, writing utensils, face masks, and food. “I wanted to create access through investing directly into students’ education because there has been a strain on support available to them,” she says.

“Since the start of the pandemic, many of the resources that people counted on were taken away,” Giles says. “One mother told us she was really grateful for the school supplies she received because it was one less thing she had to worry about.”

Fighting food waste during the pandemic

Cooper Adams (B’21), Elisabeth O’Brien (C’20), and Peter DiGiovanni (C’21) spent the summer working remotely for the Farmlink Project, a grassroots charity run by college students that aims to connect farms with surplus produce with food banks facing food shortages.

“Just being able to talk to and understand the lives of people who are growing the food for all of us to eat in the U.S. is something I never envisioned myself doing but something I’m extremely grateful for,” says Adams, a management and international business major.

Farmlink has delivered over 12 million pounds of produce and served more than 10 million meals. The Georgetown students worked remotely with Farmlink to coordinate food donations in several states across the country, including Washington State, New Mexico, California, North Carolina, and New Jersey.

Adams said reduced demand in the food service industry has hurt farmers, who continued to grow their supply even as movie theatres, ballparks, and other businesses stopped or cut back on food orders. “To say that COVID-19 has increased food insecurity is a vast understatement,” he says. The group continues outreach to growers and consumers across the country, with hopes of growing their volunteer force to help facilitate more donations.

Delivering PPE where it’s needed most

Shortly after her medical school peers were pulled from their clinical rotations due to COVID-19 health restrictions in March, Hannah Day (M’22) texted her classmates, asking if they would be interested in collecting personal protective equipment to donate to hospitals in need.

Five other third-year students responded and began work on what would become an international nonprofit organization called MedSupplyDrive.

“I don’t think any of us really imagined what it was going to turn into,” says Day. “Things kept taking shape and it kind of caught on fire on social media.”

Within the first two weeks, the organization gained more than 341 volunteers from 37 states. Volunteers came from 41 undergraduate universities and 66 medical schools. They collected PPE from research labs, tattoo parlors, construction firms, auto body companies, and other businesses.

This past summer, Georgetown students worked remotely with other Farmlink teams on the ground to help bridge the gap between two problems brought on by the pandemic: farmers with surplus produce and people facing food insecurity.

After initially focusing on relief efforts in New York, volunteers shifted toward securing donations for hospitals in Florida, Arizona, and California, where cases rose dramatically over the summer, according to Allison Rooney (M’22), who helped over- see regional coordinators for MedSupplyDrive.

“We began focusing on smaller facilities or clinics in rural regions with less opportunity to acquire these supplies,” Rooney says.

When protestors marched in major cities in response to the murder of George Floyd, MedSupplyDrive began work to ensure Black Lives Matter activists would have access to PPE. “As health care professionals going into a field dedicated to protecting human life, the Black Lives Matter movement was extremely important to all of us,” she says.

Rooney said the medical students who started the initiative transferred leadership of the nonprofit to regional coordinators in July to ensure MedSupplyDrive continued when their medical school classes resumed.

“There’s a common misconception right now that the supply chain caught up and there are no longer PPE shortages. This is not true.” Rooney says. “The pandemic is not going anywhere.

As long as there is a need we’re going to try and fill it and adapt to the changing realm.”

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