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LI teen founds group that raises money to get protective gear to frontline workers

Three Long Island teens, including Oyster Bay's Sabrina

Three Long Island teens, including Oyster Bay's Sabrina Guo, the founder of Long Island Laboring Against COVID-19, donated 20,000 pieces of PPE and $2,000 in meals to frontline workers at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Soon after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus crisis a pandemic, Sabrina Guo saw a call from Nassau Legis. Joshua Lafazan on social media to write thank-you letters to health workers.

The then-14-year-old wrote one. But it didn’t feel like enough.

Days later in March, the teenager started a nonprofit called Long Island Laboring Against COVID-19 to raise money to purchase personal protective equipment that she saw doctors and nurses so desperately needed.

"Upon reading the stories of our frontline workers suffering severe [PPE] shortages, I really grasped the gravity and the severity of this whole situation with COVID," said the Syosset High School sophomore who is now 15. "It just really hit me."

Since March, the campaign has raised more than $100,000 and donated 170,000 pieces of PPE to 40 Long Island facilities, including hospitals, nursing homes and veterans groups, Guo said.

The organization, or LILAC, has grown to have 50 members, mostly high school students on Long Island.

A few days after Christmas, LILAC made its most recent donation — 20,000 pieces of masks, coveralls, gowns and hand sanitizers — to Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside. The group also donated 120 lunches.

Ken Long, the hospital’s vice president of administration, said the hospital has months’ worth of PPE and will add the donation to its supply.

"It shows the connection to the community," Long said. "It keeps the morale very high when people feel that the community is recognizing and noticing what they are doing."

Joseph Moores, a trustee at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 347 in Glen Cove, said he and other members were amazed when LILAC reached out to donate a few thousand masks and a couple hundred hand sanitizers around Memorial Day. The supply was later shared with about half a dozen other VFW and American Legion posts.

"I couldn’t believe it. There was this pandemic going on, and they really stepped up," the 72-year-old Vietnam veteran said. "We were much impressed and grateful."

Beyond supplies, LILAC members made and donated 170 pieces of artwork to thank frontline workers and show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The BLM artwork series was a separate initiative by LILAC since its founding last March.

"It’s an amazing feeling when you see others joyful over a piece of work that you worked on," said Marla Hakim, a 15-year-old who made more than 20 pieces. "Sometimes, they will cry or give you a big smile. It’s just amazing."

Yeonwoo Lee, who contributed two dozen works of art, made a colored sketch that she named "Together."

It shows a patient celebrating her birthday with two family members through a glass window, a depiction all too familiar to families who have been forced to endure separation and celebrate milestones in a virus-adjusted world.

"Obviously, this pandemic has given us all challenges whether small or big, but we must find ways to work together again so we can be together again," said the 15-year-old, who is from Plainview.

Sabrina Guo, whose father, Spencer, emigrated to the United States from China when he was 13, said she launched LILAC in part to "mitigate those unwarranted biases toward Asian Americans," referring to the backlash Asians in the United States have faced because the pandemic that originated in China.

Spencer Guo, one of the parents who drives the teens to donation sites and helps with the logistics, said his daughter’s campaign is also to raise the voice of the Asian community.

"As Asian Americans, we have to do more to show that Asian Americans [aren’t] just about school and … studying for exams," said Spencer Guo, 48. "We care about our community. We care about other people of color. We care about [the Black Lives Matter movement]. And we care about how Asian Americans are being looked at."

The disparities laid bare in the aftermath of the pandemic on minorities and those struggling to make ends meet aren’t lost on the Guo family either.

Sabrina Guo, who donated $40,000 of her college fund saved by her parents and $1,050 of her personal savings, said LILAC will contribute 30,000 PPEs, to be donated through Nassau legislators, to groups that serve veterans, seniors, the homeless and at-risk youth.

"It’s … coming from a position of privilege living and going to school comfortably on Long Island," said Sabrina Guo, who lives in Oyster Bay. "I felt the need to gather these resources to help the less fortunate."

Local politicians, who have attended the donation ceremonies and gave LILAC commendations, have praised the group’s efforts.

Lafazan (I-Woodbury), 26, called Guo a "perfect example" of people stepping up to make a difference.

And she’s not alone, the legislator said, noting the efforts of the volunteers who collected food, shopped for seniors, organized PPE and blood drives.

"During a really dark and turbulent time, we have seen individual citizens take heroic action," Lafazan said in an interview last month. "They’ve been the light of 2020."

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