Like other teenagers, Sabrina Guo’s life has changed dramatically since the coronavirus pandemic. The Oyster Bay Cove 14-year-old said she longs for what was once typical, especially going to school. “As a teenager, I miss a lot of things, including my friends, my teachers, the gross odor of my school gym that I got accustomed to, the cute study cubbies in my school library,” said Sabrina, who is a freshman at Syosset High School. “But what I miss the most are those people that have made the ultimate sacrifice, saving other people’s lives.”
In early March, Sabrina said she became alarmed by the escalating Covid-19 pandemic, especially the devastation it was causing in New York. Americans have experienced a death toll of over 84,000 people and a shortage of personal protective equipment that caused health care workers to reuse masks and don garbage bags for protection.
“It hit me hard and I started to say to myself, ‘What can I do to help such an urgent situation,’” Sabrina said. “I also heard on the news that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a warning that in about a week, New York City was going to run out of PPEs.”
Deciding that she had to do something, Sabrina started a fundraising effort on March 23, calling it the Long Island Laboring Against Covid-19, or LILAC, to purchase masks and gloves to be donated to hospitals, senior care facilities and first responder teams.
She has been successful in collecting over 20,000 pieces of PPE. But her efforts were not without challenges.
Spencer Guo, Sabrina’s father, said that when his daughter spoke to him initially about her idea he thought she was kidding.
“I told her that if the government is having issues [getting PPEs] then it will be 100 times harder for us, so think about that,” said Guo. He said he asked Sabrina, “‘Are you ready for this? Because when you’re in, there’s probably no way out.”
Sabrina was, so the Guo family decided to work together on the effort. They launched a GoFundMe collecting roughly $10,000 in the first two weeks.
But once they looked into actually purchasing the PPE there were obstacles, starting with the inflated price. The Society for Healthcare Organization Procurement Professionals released findings on April 6 that showed that the cost of N95 masks went up over 1,000 percent, with the costs of gloves skyrocketing at least 200 percent.
The Guos’ search for PPE was a difficult one. Unable to find it anywhere in American they were forced to look overseas, settling on manufacturers in China. Guo negotiated prices on behalf of his daughter. “No one wants to negotiate prices with a 14-year-old,” Sabrina laughed.
Then when the order was nearly finalized they had to overcome another hurdle. The cost of shipping had gone up dramatically, so much so that the roughly $10,000 that they had already raised would not cover the cost.
“It’s still amazing that we accumulated $10,000 in the first two weeks,” Guo said. “We’re thankful to those donors, but at the same time the PPE prices were rising so much faster than the donations.”
That’s when Sabrina decided that she would donate $40,000 of her college savings to the cause. Sabrina told her parents that she wanted to pay tribute to health care workers, along with the security guards, cooks and janitors in health care facilities, by donating her own money. And she also wanted to pay tribute to the children who would not be able to attend college because of the financial ramifications of Covid-19.
“It was something that had to be done,” Sabrina explained. “A parent’s dream is to see and send their kids off to college, but if they pass away, they can’t do that. Money is something you can earn back, but lives . . . you can’t.”
“When she told my wife and me, the only thing we could muster was to hug her,” Guo said. “We kind of cried together.”
Originally Guo was in charge of speaking to health care facilities and first responders to find out what they needed. Now LILAC has committees made up of volunteers that are responsible for that.
Another initiative created by Sabrina is “Thank You and We Care,” where artwork and cards are created by volunteers and given to health care workers. Sabrina said her purpose of sending the messages of encouragement are to make sure that the health care workers do not feel isolated behind their masks. Sabrina’s mother, Eva Wang, has been picking up and delivering the artwork.
Sabrina’s efforts have not gone unrecognized. When Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, an alumni of Syosset High School, went to donate PPE with Sabrina at Excel Rehabilitation and Nursing in Woodbury, he awarded her with a citation. Lafazan called Sabrina a “superstar.”
A health care facility in Far Rockaway, Queens, recently also asked for assistance. “One of the administrators was choking up, saying ‘you probably won’t believe this, but some of us are still wearing garbage bags,’” Guo said. “I thought I would not hear that because we saw that on the news a month ago and we thought those situations were taken care of.”
Sabrina said she believes that the coronavirus pandemic will not end anytime soon. “I’m humbled and somewhat gratified that we’re able to play an essential role in the PPE relief effort,” she said. “This is not just a battle, it’s a war that can last for years. For that reason, LILAC is an organization that will continue to grow and prepare to help with the PPE shortage and to provide emotional support.”
Since launching LILAC Sabrina has raised over $57,000, which includes her own donation. To donate, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/LILACovid19.