Students use pandemic as opportunity to donate, help others


Courtesy Sarina Zhao and Allison Li

Sarina Zhao, left, and Allison Li, right, load boxes of surgical masks into their minivan for a delivery to a nursing home.

Berk Oto, Assistant Editor

During something as big in scope as the COVID-19 pandemic, it may seem impossible to make a tangible positive difference. U-High ninth-grader Sarina Zhao and Laboratory Schools middle schooler Allison Li are proving that notion wrong with their GoFundMe page, raising money to donate surgical masks to nursing and retirement homes in the Chicago area.

“The idea kind of came to me over spring break since I have elderly relatives in China, so I guess that’s how I know personally that this has affected old people — everyone really, but especially old people,” Sarina Zhao said. 

Sarina said the two bought 12,000 masks with about $7,000 borrowed from their parents. They are in the process of donating to various retirement homes such as the Estates at Hyde Park and the Villa in Windsor Park but are also looking for other homes.

Since starting the campaign April 5, the page has raised more than $1,600 from 42 donors as of April 14. Sarina added that the $5,000 goal is to offset the cost of those masks and then buy new ones.

“I think more than the money, we wanted to raise awareness and show that we can all do something to help if we wanted to,” Sarina said. “If we just inspire one person to do something like this, they could inspire another and another and we could all create something big.”

On each box of masks donated, they print a message — “From the University of Chicago Laboratory School Students and Their Friends and Families.” According to Sarina, this is to show the kindness of their community and also give credit to those who donated money.

The duo has donated more than 4,200 of their masks so far, but is still reaching out to other nursing homes to find out how they can help.

“If we reach our goal, we will probably continue raising money on GoFundMe since there are always more nursing homes in Chicago that need help,” she said. “We will continue to send a positive message to the elderly who may be feeling neglected in these hard times.”