Lehman Grad Launches Community PPE Distribution Project

Photo of Rawan Aldasooky
Photo of Rawan Aldasooky
By Lisa Hirschfield

Rawan Aldasooky, '20, was alarmed when she learned of the toll that COVID-19 was taking on lower-income areas of the city where she lives, Yonkers. The pre-med chemistry major, who graduated last week, is also in the process of applying to medical school, but she was determined to find some way to help. With some creative thinking, resourcefulness, and the support of her extended family, Aldasooky started a public health project that has already aided over 200 people.

“Originally, I wanted to volunteer at the hospital,” said Aldasooky. “But that wasn’t a possibility because of safety regulations.”

Aldasooky then applied—and was hired—for a position as an EMT, but because courses were canceled, she was unable to obtain her CPR certification in time.

The death of a family friend from the virus alerted her to the fact that people in certain areas of her city were especially vulnerable to the disease.

“There’s a huge cluster of [COVID-19] cases in Yonkers, especially in downtown Yonkers, and he was actually living there,” Aldasooky said. “I realized that a lot of these people are essential workers, or they’re not able to stay at home, they have to keep working. And it’s pretty upsetting to hear that the majority of COVID cases are from minority backgrounds. So, that was what drew me into supporting public health efforts.”

Aldasooky, whose parents are Palestinian immigrants, learned that Islamic Relief USA (IRAS), an organization she has previously volunteered for, was distributing hygiene kits with masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer in other areas of the country. She knew this was something she could arrange for her location.

“I’ve always been interested in public health, so I thought this would be a good way to advocate and help my community,” she said.

However, the organization was unable to provide the kits to her.

“I ended up saying to my mom, ‘Why don’t we just do it?’”

Enlisting the help of her uncle and cousin, who are wholesale distributors, Aldasooky was able to purchase the necessary supplies.

“I told them I need gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, PPE—because a lot of people don’t have those things, and we have to give them to healthcare providers first,” said Aldasooky. “But we have to remember that the only way we can stop the spread is to take precautionary efforts on our end.”

She then needed to tackle the issue of distribution “and how am I going to get it to people without knocking at their door and freaking them out,” she said.

She turned to the Muslim American Society-PACE’s upper New York chapter for suggestions. The organization works with mosques in the area.

“The Yonkers mosque is located in the area where we had the highest amount of COVID cases, so I wanted to give them out there,” Aldasooky said.

The chapter was planning a weekly series of Ramadan food distribution events for the community around the mosque, open to anyone in need. With the supplies Aldasooky purchased, she put together 200 kits for distribution. It was obvious she would need funding to sustain the project.

“Then I would be able to make more [kits] for the community and keep doing it. There are so many people that need these health kits,” she said.

Fortunately, Aldasooky learned that a MAS-PACE board member had just received a grant to support the weekly care package giveaway, which is now providing $750 in funding so that she may continue to produce and distribute kits through mid-June.

Aldasooky credits all those who enabled her to achieve her goal of assisting others affected by COVID-19, especially her mother.

“My mom has been such a big help, she was the one who pushed me to keep going, she would spend hours looking [for materials] online,” she said. “She helped this whole thing happen.”

Aldasooky would like her efforts to inspire others to help those whose lives have been disrupted by the pandemic. But, she adds, “hopefully this will all be behind us soon.”