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The Quad: UCLA students, alumni band together to support those in need during global pandemic

By Audrey Pham

April 28, 2020 7:19 p.m.

It’s hardly a secret that people everywhere are hurting from COVID-19.

From health care workers running out of proper medical supplies to students faced with quarantine boredom and isolation, the effects of COVID-19 are hitting everyone in ways we may not immediately think of.

Luckily, UCLA students and alumni are responding to this heightened need for support with their own leadership, time and effort. Here’s the Quad’s look at what Bruins are doing to help out and provide hope in these difficult times.

Firstly, to financially help fellow Bruins in need, UCLA’s Student Wellness Commission initiated two programs: the Basic Needs Subsidy and Student Relief Grant. The programs are open to all undergraduate students.

Mihika Sridhar, a fourth-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, and the student wellness commissioner, said that as a programming commission, SWC largely relied on their physical location on campus to engage with students in person. This has become impossible in light of the global pandemic, she said.

“We were thinking of what we could do in place of (our spring quarter events) that might be more effective given the current pandemic,” Sridhar said. “Because of how privileged we are to have this amount of money under purview, we decided that the right thing to do was to redistribute it to those in need – like a student who doesn’t have a roof over their head or doesn’t know how they’re going to pay for their next meal.”

[Related: Donations help Westwood businesses feed the frontline of health care workers]


The Basic Needs Subsidy is available on a first-come, first-served basis and provides students with upwards of $100 for necessities such as hygiene products, toiletries and medication.

The SWC is also offering the Student Relief Grant fund, a $500 need-based award to students facing financial hardships that are created or worsened by COVID-19. Approximately 200 grants are available, Sridhar said.

“This pandemic is highlighting the inequities that exist at UCLA, the United States and the world,” Sridhar said. “It’s necessary now for people to realize their privileges and thus also realize how their time, money and efforts could be spent helping others.”

Many Bruin-led organizations have popped up to do just that – one of them being Los Angeles COVID Volunteers, comprised of UCLA undergraduate and graduate student volunteers.

Haroon Rasheed and Hannah Hye Rhyn Chung, MD candidates at the David Geffen School of Medicine and the organization’s co-directors of communication, said that their mission is to serve LA health care workers in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a medical student early in training, there is little I can do to help on the front lines of this health pandemic,” Chung said. “But as students whose future will be in health care, my classmates and I felt called to relieve the burden on our health care system here in Los Angeles.”

LA COVID Volunteers offers four main programs: PPE Management and Construction, Healthcare Worker Services, Food Corps and Community Partnerships. The organization works in collaboration with UCLA Engineering, the Anderson School of Business, local restaurants and volunteers to make this possible.

In the month since the organization’s formation, LA COVID Volunteers has been focusing its service on UCLA Health organizations such as Ronald Reagan Medical Center, UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, but they are looking to donate to smaller clinics in the future.

For those interested in getting involved, the organization is actively looking for volunteers in any of the four programs. Volunteers who can support weekday morning child care requests are most needed, Rasheed said.

COVID Transport Relief, commonly shortened to CTR, is an organization with a similar mission. Started by UCLA undergraduates who met during the 2019 Stanford Summer Community College Premedical Program, their mission is to coordinate the pick-up and delivery of essential supplies for health care workers in the Bay Area.

“Rather than health care facilities at large, we aim to directly assist hospital employees and first responders to help minimize the added hurdles these essential workers face in trying to maintain personal safety,” said Tasneem Sadok, a third-year neuroscience student and CTR co-founder.

Volunteer drivers are largely composed of CTR admin and their family and friends. CTR provides all drivers with a homemade mask and pair of gloves, and enforces pick-up and drop-off protocols based on CDC recommendations.

“In the future, (we hope) to partner with larger and better-equipped organizations to facilitate bulk donation of supplies to local hospitals and clinics,” Sadok said.

There are many different sectors of CTR that Bruins can get involved in, if interested. Donating spare supplies, contributing to the organization’s GoFundMe or simply spreading the news through social media are some ways to help.

And for everyone struggling with quarantine boredom, do not fret: Concerts at the Kitchen Table seek to create a sense of community through virtual musical performances by fellow Bruins.

Concerts at the Kitchen Table was founded by third-year molecular cell and developmental biology student Akshay Anand, who was inspired by his own love for music at home and in college.

To source performers, Anand turned to friends, specifically those who, like him, were planning on participating in Spring Sing. As they watch these performances, audience members are given the opportunity to donate to World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization that is currently serving over 100,000 meals a day nationwide to those affected by COVID-19.

In order to create and strengthen the performer-audience relationship, Anand heavily relies on the power of social media, particularly Instagram. Here, he posts artist highlights that feature a picture of the performer, a short biography and the songs they’ll be playing.

“By doing this, it pushes people to be more invested in the performance because it’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m going on for 30 minutes today and I know no one who’s playing except a few of my friends,’” Anand said. “By putting them on Instagram, people know who these performers are and are more inclined to be into the performance. You feel proud of yourself for being part of this performance.”

Concerts at the Kitchen Table, much like LA COVID Volunteers and COVID Transport Relief, is hoping to grow – they are currently hoping to add dance performances to the mix. Likewise, for those interested in getting involved, simply message the organization’s Instagram, Anand said.

Amid the uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has left us with, it’s hard not to fall victim to the chaos. UCLA students and alumni are providing examples of how to turn this chaos into positivity, one medical-supply donation, hot meal and performance at a time.


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Audrey Pham
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