Mahika Kanchanam, 16, of Omaha, Nebraska, a sophomore at Millard North High School nominated by the American Red Cross in Omaha, helped protect healthcare workers in her community from COVID-19 by providing more than 4,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to five Omaha-area hospitals, and raised $1,400 for a local food bank by selling hand-sewn cloth face masks, in addition to securing matching funds. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mahika heard “horrific” stories of healthcare workers in New York who had to work without adequate protection. One story that really struck her, she said, was that of a teenage girl who lost her mother, a physician’s assistant, to COVID-19. After hearing that, “I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines,” said Mahika. “Healthcare workers were risking their lives for us. The least we could do is equip them with PPE.”
She began researching how to print face shields and how to sew face masks and other protective gear, then bought supplies and began her efforts. To amplify her effort, she recruited four other sewing volunteers, appealed for donations on GoFundMe, and reached out to procure PPE items from suppliers in other states and countries. Ultimately, Mahika was able to deliver to local hospitals more than 4,000 PPE items, including face masks, face shields, scrub caps, eye protection and ear savers. In addition, she donated 70 sewn face masks to her school district. She sold 200 more to provide meals at a local food bank.