Liem Kaplan, 13, of Sammamish, Washington, a seventh-grader at Montessori Children's House, launched a campaign to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations, a campaign that ended up attracting 60 volunteers across the country who helped him provide more than 20,000 face masks, 10,000 sandwiches, 5,000 food bags and 7,000 pairs of socks. Liem, who was adopted as an infant from Vietnam, began supporting people experiencing homelessness years ago by organizing an annual donation drive that collected up to 1,000 coats a year. “It bothered me that people would just step over a homeless person and not even say hello,” he said. “Everyone deserves respect and compassion.” When the COVID-19 pandemic forced many shelters and food programs to close, Liem felt he had to do more. “I worried that no one was helping the people living on the streets,” he said.
He asked a friend of his mother’s to help him create a website, Facebook page and email account. Then he contacted organizations that help the homeless to assess their needs, and quickly discovered that they couldn’t reopen because they lacked personal protective equipment. So Liem began asking people to sew and donate facemasks. At the same time, he was spending many late nights with his mother assembling food bags and hygiene kits for the homeless. As word of Liem’s “Giving Hope Project” spread via social media and news media coverage, donations rolled in from across the country, enabling Liem to supply numerous service groups and organizations with masks and relief packages, and to personally hand out food and personal care items every week to people on the streets. The Giving Hope Project is now a registered nonprofit with over 200 volunteers – many of them 18 or younger. To date, he has received and distributed over $100,000 in in kind donations. As critical as these tangible supplies have been, “the most important thing we give is hope,” said Liem.