CHICAGO – When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States hard during the spring of 2020, the plight of frontline healthcare workers came to the forefront of national news. Hospital staffs were enduring challenges from all sides: protective equipment shortages, exhaustion from intense 12-hour work shifts, physical isolation from their own families, even contracting the virus themselves.
The intense struggles within the healthcare sector left an impression on Agnes Lo. She recognized the constant stress was taking a serious toll on the mental and physical health of those employees.
"They make such meaningful sacrifices for our communities, yet there aren't easy ways for us (the general public) to show our appreciation," Lo said. "That's when my friends Vincent, Angela, and I decided to remedy this problem. What if we just made a platform where people could easily show gratitude in a meaningful way?"
The call to action resulted in the creation of www.Caring4Caretakers.org, spearheaded by the trio of Lo, Angela Kong and Vincent Yang. The website endeavor allows visitors to sponsor care packages filled with practical, daily-use items. The site currently offers an aloe facial spray, a Burt's Bees skincare set and a pack-of-eight compression socks. Outreach to healthcare workers helped inform the selections – respondents said wearing masks and PPE all day was rough on their skin, and compression socks were helpful for leg aches and pains from long works shifts.
A spring 2020 graduate of UChicago, Lo carved out the most decorated women's diving career in school history. She earned six All-American awards between the one-meter and three-meter diving boards. Her 2019 season featured a national runner-up finish in the three-meter dive and a third-place showing in the one-meter dive. At the conference level in the University Athletic Association, Lo was a three-time UAA Diver of the Year and six-time league champion. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Environmental and Urban Studies with honors.
The first step to making the idea a reality was to create a two-sided online platform. "It was my first time creating a website, but it was a great experience," Lo said. "I built the site to allow healthcare workers to sign up for free, while donors can order a package in under two minutes. The donor sends a personal message of gratitude, and the healthcare worker shares a bit about COVID-19's impact on their work life. Angela and Vincent worked on healthcare worker outreach, figuring out what care packages would be meaningful and helpful to them."
As the site creator and overall operations coordinator, Lo learned a wide range of new skills in the past few months. Along with website creation, it was her first time coordinating so many simultaneous outreach efforts on both the donor and healthcare worker sides.
"There were parts I never realized I'd have to learn, including learning advanced Excel formulas to partially automate the order fulfillment process," said Lo. "For almost two weeks, I was managing Caring4Caretakers for nine to 10 hours daily. However, as my full-time job is beginning soon, I brought two amazing volunteers onto the team to help with the workload – one of them being UChicago swimmer Chanell Kann."
The enthusiastic feedback from gift recipients has been a heartwarming byproduct of the website venture.
- "Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness; these small acts of kindness go such a long way. So many times I shed so many tears for this job and these small appreciations give small boosts."
- "Thank you so much for the gift. It means so much that you are thinking of us during this unusually scary and confusing time. You have brightened my day!"
- "Thank you so much for the lovely facial spray! It will be very refreshing after a long 12-hour shift at the hospital."
All five members of the Caring4Caretakers team have either full-time jobs or will be starting school soon, so the project will likely come to a close in the near future. Lo is joining City Year AmeriCorps to become a public education mentor and ambassador. Currently, the website is still fulfilling orders as donations are received.
"No matter how long this project lasts, we know that every donated dollar went to a meaningful cause," Lo said. "We've sent out care packages to about 280 healthcare workers to date, which is many more people than we'd ever hoped for. This has been an amazing learning experience, and I'm beyond thankful for the team that I got to work with."
- For more information or to donate, visit https://www.caring4caretakers.org/