Like many of us, Arul Nigam, 17, of Vienna, was looking for a way to help his community during the coronavirus crisis.
“I wanted to see what I could do to give back to the community and help as many people as I could,” Nigam said.
After researching and brainstorming, the Thomas Jefferson High School student came up with the idea to start a national initiative for COVID-19 relief.
Nigam’s initiative, called “Heroes of COVID,” delivers curbside meals from local restaurants to health care workers in COVID-19 hot spots around the country.
“I was doing a bit of research and I realized there are these two struggling groups, which are hospitals and a lot of small local businesses like restaurants,” Nigam said. “And I thought that there must be some way that I can use both of these groups to help each other.”
Word about the initiative quickly spread online. On March 20, Nigam started a GoFundMe page, where he was able to raise nearly $5,000 to purchase meals for frontline workers.
Now, just over a month later, Nigam has raised nearly $9,000 to serve over 1,000 meals to health care professionals in COVID-19 hot spots around the country. Through the initiative, meals have been delivered in cities such as Washington D.C., New York, Boston, Baltimore and Chicago.
Thus far, 21 hospitals in 12 states have benefitted from the Heroes of COVID program.
LOCALLY, Heroes of COVID has delivered meals to Fairfax INOVA Hospital, George Washington University Hospital, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Washington Hospital Center.
Deliveries to hospitals in Virginia and Washington D.C. were made in cooperation with Rasa, a fast-casual Indian restaurant based in Washington D.C.
“It’s really amazing to see someone his age coming up with this kind of initiative,” Rahul Vinod, co-founder of Rasa, said. “We’ve seen a few of these ‘fuel the frontlines’ and ‘fuel the fight’ kind of organizations popping up and they’ve been really helpful for local small businesses, like myself, where sales are down so dramatically.”
Like Nigam, Vinod was also excited for the opportunity to give back to his community.
“We’re looking for ways that we can not only stay in business, but also, be a part of the solution and help people who are putting their lives on the line,” Vinod said.
Through the project’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, followers can see photos of the meal deliveries to hospitals. Many photos in the project’s social media feeds feature health care workers in their hospital scrubs, smiling with meal donations in hand.
In addition to spreading word about Heroes of COVID through social media, Nigam uses his platforms to give medical professionals a voice. Nigam hopes that his initiative can also inform others about how they can stay safe during the pandemic, by featuring stories and advice from frontline health care workers.
“People are getting direct information about what they should be doing in terms of social distancing to protect themselves, their loved ones and everyone in the community,” Nigam said.
And although some states across the U.S. are beginning to slowly lift their stay-at-home orders, Nigam has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. He will continue to reach out to COVID-19 hot spots to help underserved communities around the country.
AS NIGAM CONTINUES to expand Heroes of COVID, he remains grateful for the donors and individuals whose support of the initiative is making a difference.
“We're just really, really, thankful for all the frontline workers, especially in health care, but also in the restaurants, delivery and everyone who's contributing to this and risking their lives to help everyone get over this and get through this,” Nigam said.