While the COVID-19 outlook looks bleak across much of the nation, some of the brightest spots within Sammamish have come from youth who are mobilizing to give back to the community. With time on their hands now that school is out, youth are trying to ease the pandemic’s impact for the most vulnerable members of the community.
Liem Kaplan, 13, started the GivingHope Project to help people who are unprotected or homeless in the Seattle area and around Washington state.
“I started GivingHope because I know that when you give people hope you give them the power to rise up on their own with your love, compassion and support,” Kaplan said. “You might just get them through another day. Sometimes that is enough.”
When the pandemic hit, Kaplan realized that people without housing would not have access to hygiene items to protect themselves. With shelters and food distribution programs closing as well, he decided to step up to help meet the basic needs of the homeless to stay healthy. He collaborated with One Love Feeds All, a local volunteer group, to expand his reach.
Every Sunday, Kaplan, along with his mother Nancy and a team of volunteers, give out food and hygiene bags to homeless people in Seattle. The hygiene bags contain masks, hand sanitizer and socks to help provide a first barrier of protection against the coronavirus. Kaplan loves community service.
“I do this because it makes me feel like I am making the world better,” he said. “A lot of people think of homeless people as dirty alcoholics or drug addicts. Really, they are the same as everyone else. They just do not have as much as other people [do].”
The GivingHope Project has many volunteers helping every week, including some young children. Kaplan shared that a 5-year-old boy in his neighborhood donated all of his savings so that Kaplan could serve treats to the homeless. Another child volunteer reportedly spent two hours making two sandwiches because he wanted them to be perfect.
“A lot of people are protesting and trying to make the world better right now and that is important,” Kaplan said. “We need funding for people, we need services for mental health, substance abuse, and trauma. We need lots of housing options. We need better systems so people do not end up on the streets.”
In addition to their weekly distribution to the homeless, GivingHope Project also donates masks to shelters and other organizations that work with people in need. Since April, the group has donated over 5,000 masks to Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank, Issaquah Court Services, Union Gospel Mission, The Children’s Village in Yakima, Sophia’s Choice, Mary’s Place, and the Rainier Vista COVID-19 Neighbor Support Group, which is a group in Kaplan’s neighborhood that works with refugees and immigrant families.
While Kaplan’s project focuses on the homeless, Skyline High School students and sisters Mallika and Ketki Ketkar, both 15, are working to help the elderly by providing a free grocery delivery service.
“We thought that we should help elderly people, those around them, and others at risk, so we started offering to deliver groceries and essential supplies once every week,” Mallika said.
The Ketkar sisters were encouraged to start this service due to their 80-year-old grandfather’s experience. On his visit to India, he got stuck there when the pandemic hit. At that time, his biggest concern was figuring out how to get groceries without risking exposure to the virus. The girls realized that many people in Sammamish are also at high-risk of COVID-19 complications and might need similar help.
“We pick up and deliver groceries. It is a free service, but if anyone gives any tips, we donate it to our fencing academy [Kaizen],” Mallika said, referring to the sport that both sisters participate in.
The Ketkar girls have also made an incredible impact at Kaizen Academy. They have helped their coaches create videos, provide virtual lesson plans and coordinate guest speakers for their virtual classes. The girls also assisted in organizing talks from Olympic fencers and fencing referees from various countries.
“These talks help all the fencers in our academy stay motivated and focused,” Ketki said. “It helps all of us continue our practice virtually and overcome COVID-19 related stress. We are trying to help our academy and others in whatever small ways we can.”
Both Kaplan and the Ketkar sisters represent inspiring examples of selfless service during a time when many people are struggling. They show the impact that young people can have when they take action to bring hope and compassion for their communities.
As Liem Kaplan put it, “Next time you see someone who is hurting, stop and say hello, give them some hope.”
To learn more about the Giving Hope Project, please visit their website.
To contact Mallika and Ketki Ketkar about their grocery delivery service, please email them at KetkarTwins@gmail.com.