A nonprofit providing personal protective equipment for New York healthcare professionals battling COVID-19 is shifting its focus to include support for a new front line - equipping protesters during the Black Lives Matter movement.
Med Supply Drive is a nonprofit organization entirely led by volunteers across the country, originally founded by Georgetown University medical students. As first reported by NBC New York in early April, the group was supported by 400 students, but this organization has become a growing force within just a couple of months – currently consisting of over 1,500 U.S. volunteers and building international connections.
“We consider racism a public health issue as well as injustice. And so personally and professionally as a group, none of us are willing to be silent,” said Joya Ahmad, Med Supply Drive's logistics and northeast regional coordinator.
Ahmad said New York was not only the epicenter for a health crisis but for the drive against racial and social inequality. As a street medic, Ahmad saw the need firsthand for PPE during city protests.
“I’m hearing the concerns from people saying, ‘I have to go out, I have to fight for my life, but I don’t want to lose my life in combat,'" she said.
To her, a new crisis has emerged, and Med Supply Drive proceeded to act with a focus on protesters. According to Ahmad, at first, this idea was not met with unanimous support from the medical community.
“We saw a lot of silence from the medical and public health fields at the beginning. A lot of people said, ‘Oh, that's not our lane, that's not our job. It's not our place to speak about this,’... And we [Med Supply Drive] consider that to be incredibly our lane,” she said.
Including the continuous donations to medical facilities, the organization has distributed upwards of 460,000 items countrywide since mid-June.
While spreading a message of national solidarity, Med Supply Drive had aroused international attention, particularly from a shocking, yet extraordinary source of donations. Admiring the New York marches for civil rights, refugee women from the Greek Isle of Lesvos decided to take part in the local donation efforts.
Med Supply Drive connected with the European nonprofit, Distribute Aid, a volunteer network that connects refugee aid groups. Human rights advocate and founder of Distribute Aid, Sara Lönegård, believes that there isn’t a huge difference when it comes to those seeking equality – regardless of location.
“We have to recognize that the core struggle in many ways is the same…It’s going to look a little different depending on local context, but we can learn a lot from each other and the movements,” Lönegård said.
Distribute Aid helped to facilitate the refugee donations with Team Humanity, another humanitarian organization dedicated to providing aid on the Greek Isle of Lesvos at the Moria refugee camp.
As of June 18, Med Supply Drive received 10,000 masks crafted by these refugee women, which have been distributed to various Native American organizations, homeless and food shelters. Within one of the packages, Ahmad’s team received a handwritten note from the camp reading, “In solidarity, from one group seeking freedom to another.”
Overwhelmed and grateful by these unique donations, Ahmad sees this as more than a generous donation but as a sign of strength within greater humanity.
“In the branded masks these women are making – the fabric is upcycled life jackets. By doing that, these women are saying, ‘We are going to literally take our trauma and struggle and turn it into help for someone else,’” she added.