Student-run nonprofit EndingCOVID looks to protect the vulnerable in crisis


Photo courtesy of EndingCOVID

Tejas Sekhar, Dr. Dorothy Owens and Sejal Sekhar pose with a donation in April, coordinated by EndingCOVID and the Metro Area Professional Organization.

Stephen Council, Reporter

In early April, as the coronavirus pandemic hit St. Louis, Weinberg senior Tejas Sekhar suddenly had $500. He’d won the prize at a Teach for America pitch competition, but his team wasn’t going forward with its idea. So, he decided to put the money to good use.

He used it to donate over 100 masks to the city’s Mercy Hospital South. He realized the impact of the gear, and he knew he’d have spare time this quarter with virtual learning. EndingCOVID was born.

The nonprofit now has about 15 team members working around the country to provide personal protective equipment for healthcare and essential workers. With a focus on protecting vulnerable populations, EndingCOVID also organizes donations of food, masks and other supplies to community shelters and seniors using existing distribution centers.

“What we can do best is coordinate with all these distribution centers, kind of vet the need of each one and see how much product, how much stuff we should give to each one, without having to create some entirely new process,” Sekhar said.

With Sekhar as the executive director, the team has expanded its reach into communities across the country. Members are organizing and building partnerships in St. Louis, Chicago, New Jersey, North Carolina, Miami, Indianapolis, Boston and South Bend. The nonprofit is nested under Sekhar’s previous nonprofit TejHospitality, and is using its 501(c)(3) status.

Sekhar pointed out that while national health organizations are doing great work, EndingCOVID has a unique student-run factor: none of the members — who come from both colleges and high schools — are looking for salaries or incomes, so every dollar that comes in goes back out in the form of physical donations.

If someone sends EndingCOVID $50 through Venmo, he said, the nonprofit will donate approximately $16 in food, $16 in masks and $16 in hygiene products, using the rest to print informational brochures. The pamphlets, a brand-new project, will give tips on social distancing in shelters, getting online for virtual learning and filing for stimulus checks, Sekhar said.

So far, donations have come in from personal fundraising by the expansion and executive teams, along with campaigns on social media. But as protests against racism and police brutality have exploded across the country this week, Sekhar said his nonprofit has halted those pushes to leave space for organizations in the Black Lives Matter movement. He added because of EndingCOVID’s focus on helping predominantly vulnerable populations, its mission is correlated with the fight against structural inequity and racial injustice. A recent Instagram post from EndingCOVID gives a link to donation drives and information about the movement.

Weinberg first-year Richa Shah is EndingCOVID’s lead in Chicago. She partnered with Heartland Alliance and Cradles to Crayons in high school, and said that the bigger role here has taken a learning curve, but it’s worth it.

“Starting, I was running the social media,” Shah said. “But lately I’ve been reaching out to more Chicagoland hospitals, shelters, places where we can really make the greatest impact and partnering with different organizations to see how we can work together.”

Shah said she is currently communicating with hospitals in Chicago about their needs for face shields. Partnerships are a major part of the nonprofit — EndingCOVID works with the distribution centers where it donates supplies, but also various technology and healthcare companies and organizations like Heartland Alliance and Period at Northwestern.

Another partnership emerged with Unplugg’d, a startup founded by Nathan Graber-Lipperman. The brand is selling EndingCOVID x UP masks and T-shirts, with proceeds going to the nonprofit. The Medill junior has experience with selling merchandise, and said that going forward, he wants his projects to create positive change.

“A T-shirt’s not going to change the world, right?” Graber-Lipperman said. “But so far we’ve raised almost 200 dollars for them. If that can change one person’s life through PPE or food distribution, then I feel like it’s really, really worth it.”

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