A Virginia teen is doing his part to make sure frontline health care workers are getting the meals they need to help them take care of themselves and others.
Arul Nigam, 17, of Tyson’s Corner, Va., has had to make several adjustments since his school year at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology ended abruptly in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We didn’t have any classes for like over a month and then after that there were a lot of technical difficulties … so I started to have a lot more free time,” he tells Yahoo Life.
Nigam adds that he had also been keeping up with the latest news around the pandemic and was inspired by a story on a health care worker who had to get through her night shift with little to no time to eat or go grocery shopping.
“It was really saddening, but it was also something that really surprised me, that our health care workers in America are facing something like that,” he says. “So I wanted to see what I could do to help them because obviously, they’re sacrificing so much and giving so much for all of us.”
In late March, the teen started fundraising efforts with the help of friends and family to help these health care workers receive much-needed meals. He says he also began doing research about what hospitals had the most amount of coronavirus cases, so he could prioritize those places first. He was also arranging for the orders to be fulfilled at local family-owned restaurants impacted by shutdown orders.
So far, Nigam has delivered over 1,000 meals to 22 hospitals in 13 states, including New York, Massachusetts and Maryland.
“It’s definitely been difficult to balance,” he says. “Basically, almost all of my time outside of classes now, I sort of dedicate to coordinating with all the different groups … but it feels really rewarding.”
Nigam’s efforts have not only helped health care workers, but restaurants as well. With quarantine restrictions taking a toll on the food industry, places like Best Coast Burrito in Oakland, Calif., have lost business over the last few weeks. Best Coast’s owner, Alvin Shen, tells Yahoo Life that being able to partner with Arul and others in efforts to feed those on the frontline has been a big help.
“We have really appreciated that, because it’s kept our staff busy and employed,” Shen says. “It’s also been really inspiring for everybody that’s been involved and I think that’s helped morale in terms of knowing the challenges that everybody’s facing, from owner to staff to donation partners to the frontline workers and all of the people that we’ve fed. They’ve been very appreciative and it’s boosted their morale as well.”
According to Shen, he and Nigam have helped give 200 meals to Stanford Hospital and Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., as well as UCSF Parnassus Campus in San Francisco. Shen could not praise the teen enough.
“I told [Nigam] I’m just so impressed and I can tell that in my very limited interactions with him, I said, ‘This guy is gonna go somewhere … he’s a leader, he cares about people, he cares about making the lives of other people better.” Shen says. “Little things like this give me hope that there’s still good out there, there’s still good people fighting for good things and helping other people.”
In addition to donating meals, Nigam created Heroes of COVID social media accounts to spread important information about coronavirus, as well as a platform for health care workers to share their stories. And though he calls his contributions during this difficult time small, it is clear that they have had a huge impact. He advises others to do what they can as well.
“The main thing is … just figure out what skills you have and what you’re able to do, and just go from there. Identify the need and see how you can help,” he advises.