Two Dartmouth College students used the time they had during the pandemic to create Give Essential, a website that matches frontline workers with essential items donated from all over the country.
Sophomore Rine Uhm and senior Amy Guan, the founders of Give Essential and roommates at Dartmouth, were driven to take action after reading about the risks and challenges essential workers face. Guan coded the Give Essential website entirely by herself in 36 hours.
Crystal An, a recent graduate from Case Western Reserve University, initially reached out to sign up as a volunteer, but began getting more involved with operations and is now a director.
To date, the female-led initiative has reached more than 6,000 essential workers and over 5,400 donors.
“After losing my classes, two internships, and a study abroad, I spent a lot of time feeling helpless about what was going on around the world,” Uhm said. “My roommate, Amy Guan, and I found ourselves with a lot of extra time and wanted to find a way to help people, but weren’t sure how when we were confined to our homes.”
Give Essential’s goal is to protect essential workers by matching them with donors so they can get the items they need, including cleaning supplies, masks, personal hygiene products or toys for their children. Two weeks of their launch on April 26, they reached over 2,200 essential workers and connected them with 600 donors, Uhm said. They are constantly looking for volunteers to help with the growing demand.
NextShark spoke to Uhm, one of the co-founders of Give Essential, on who they are, what the abrupt end of the academic year meant for them, and what can be done to help.
NextShark: You coded the site in a very small amount of time — can you explain how this idea came to light and was the coding fast because of urgency?
Rine Uhm: When we were sent home for spring break due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we started to read a lot about essential workers and issues like panic buying in the news, and realized that many essential workers weren’t able to purchase household items such as shampoo, feminine hygiene products and cleaning supplies.
I think that our sense of urgency rose from the clarity that the idea provided. Up until that point, we had been feeling helpless while stuck inside our homes and had no idea how to help people during this pandemic. But once we realized that we could help essential workers and provide people with a way to help without leaving their houses, simply by connecting them with each other, we became very excited to make it happen as best as we could.
NS: Who are the key players in your team and what do they study? How are you balancing all the work as social activists and students?
Crystal An: The three directors are Amy, Crystal, and me. Amy studies economics and Asian studies, Crystal is an incoming medical student who studied cognitive science, and I study history and economics. It’s been very challenging to find a balance between the work we’re doing with Give Essential and school assignments. But, I think it’s been a blessing in disguise that classes are currently remote because it’s given us more time to work on building Give Essential even as school is ongoing.
NS: How many people have you been able to reach and how many donations have been made? How do you ship/coordinate donations?
RU: Once we’ve created a match between a donor and an essential worker, one of our volunteers will notify the parties of their match. The volunteer will provide the information necessary for the donor to send their gift, acting as a middleman so that we can provide both parties with anonymity and minimize direct contact. The donor sends their package directly to the essential worker, sharing the tracking number with us so that we know when it’s arrived!
NS: What has been the most challenging/fun part of running your organization? What has been the hardest?
CA: The most challenging and fun part of starting Give Essential has been what an incredible learning opportunity this has all been. By jumping head first into this project, we’ve learned so much about everything that is involved in creating an organization. As college students, the world of media outreach, privacy policies, marketing, and team management is all very new to us. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have received an outpouring of support from everyone that we’ve reached out to. At the end of the day, we’re just a group of college students who decided to follow through with an idea.
NS: As college students, can you explain how you felt when your year ended early and transfer to online classes were made?
RU: We were really sad and disappointed, to say the least. Between the three of us, Amy lost her graduation, Crystal lost her gap year abroad, and Rine lost two internships and her study abroad. When you think of college, you think of those milestones and in a way, it felt like we were losing out on the full college experience. At the same time, we were aware that there were bigger and more immediate problems, and in the face of that, it felt like our personal losses weren’t that big of a deal. In the end, we just wanted to put our time and energy into creating something positive.
NS: How can young Asian and Asian American people make a difference?
CA: I think that young Asian and Asian Americans can make a real difference by being creative in how they approach big problems! With Give Essential, we’ve seen a lot of creative ways that donors are offering help with things like online tutoring services and music lessons for children, and I think those are really wonderful ways of making someone’s life a little bit easier. Small gestures go a long way and in a time of crisis, showing kindness to others is so important. One of our mentors told us that community exists everywhere, it just needs some help connecting. We come from a community rich with culture, support, and incredible people. I think that by actively searching to form connections with others in creative ways, young Asian and Asian Americans can make a big difference.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correctly spell Rine Uhm’s last name. The Q&A portion has also been credited to both Uhm and Crystal An.
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