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Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, Shanthi Hegde, a junior at Lambert High School, started making masks for health care workers, employees at essential businesses and others in need of personal protective equipment, but she kept running into the same obstacle: where to donate them.
“I didn’t really know where to give them out,” Hegde said. “I was really confused as to who was taking them.”
Hegde, with the help of a few classmates, found a solution to her problem by creating Operation Masks Georgia, a website that provides a centralized place for mask makers to connect and a database of those in need of the protective gear.
The website has two primary features. First, a place where people can volunteer to make masks or other personal protective equipment (PPE) that has been in high demand during the pandemic. Second, a form for places in need of PPE to submit their information, which then shows up on a pinpoint map for people to find businesses, hospitals, long-term care facilities and other places to send donations to.
There’s also a Slack channel where mask makers can collaborate about best practices and where to get supplies, and a place to make monetary donations that Operation Masks Georgia will use to purchase supplies.
To date, Operation Masks Georgia has supplied over 520 masks to places near and far, from a local physical therapy practice to hospitals in New York and Texas.
“It’s all really exciting that we’re making a difference from this centralized network,” Hegde said.
Hegde knew the importance of PPE to health care workers. She’s in the health care and science and technology pathway at Lambert and interned at a computational biology laboratory at Georgia Tech.
But PPE’s importance felt more urgent early on during the pandemic when she saw employees at essential businesses without masks.
“I was really heartbroken that they were not provided to these workers,” Hegde said.
Hegde started small. Along with classmates Grace Rao and Justin Ryu, they sewed masks with pockets for adding a filter. Soon they also made respirator-type masks, face shields and ear guards using a 3D printer.
Hegde then looked for places to donate the items. The best she could think of was to post a message in a local Facebook community group with a link to a Google survey where people or places could request donations.
The response was immediate and from all across Georgia. From the immunocompromised. From the elderly. From cancer patients. From employees at supermarkets. From nurses.
“I read the messages,” Hegde said, “and I was truly inspired.”
During spring break, Hegde made the website and opened social media accounts for Operation Masks Georgia. Just from local word-of-mouth, the website has received over 60 responses from places in need of PPE.
Hegde sees an opportunity for the database to branch out and become a tool that connects makers of PPE and those in need of it across the country.
As a lifelong Girl Scout, she can’t think of a more important way to make an impact in the community right now.
“We need to help those in need,” Hegde said. “Me fulfilling that right now just makes me really happy.”