The #RealHeroesNeedMasks initiative started during the Idea Sprint Weekend Against COVID-19, which was started by six IU professors in the Kelley School of Business. The mask project is one of several projects that have continued to develop since the event ran March 20-22.
Dr. Amani Jambhekar, a cancer surgeon based in Houston and student in the Kelley School of Business online MBA program, came up with the idea for an initiative to collect and distribute donations for personal protective equipment, so hospitals can get the supplies they need to combat COVID-19. So far, the group has received and donated more than 21,000 masks.
The donations they’ve received have included cloth, N95 and surgical masks, Jambhekar said. She said the masks have been donated mostly to New York and Indiana but also to Detroit, Houston, New Jersey, California and Georgia. The masks are sent to the places with the most need based on number of cases per capita, she said.
Jambhekar said her group set up 33 distribution centers nationally, which are volunteer-coordinated outpatient clinics that people can bring donations to, as well as nine distribution centers that can then send those donations to hospitals in need.
“It’s important for the public to know we can’t do this without everyone in our society pitching in,” Jambhekar said.
She said students in the Kelley School of Business’ online Master of Science and Finance program donated the majority of the money going toward masks distributed thus far.
About 10,000 of the donated masks have gone to IU Health hospitals in Indianapolis and Bloomington and to hospitals operated by Community Health Network in Indianapolis, George Vlahakis, associate director of communications and media relations for the business school, said as in an email to the Indiana Daily Student. The masks that came for Bloomington arrived April 13, he said.
Dr. Mona Stone, an oral maxillofacial surgeon in Dallas, said her friend, Jambhekar, invited her to be a part of this initiative about four weeks ago. She said they officially launched the hashtag about two weeks ago on social media platforms such as Instagram.
Jambhekar said she and other "medical influencers," people with a few thousand followers who have lots of engagement on their Instagram pages, have been using the hashtag.
The popularity of these influencers and their use of the hashtag has raised a lot of awareness and helped many organizations, she said. Jambhekar said the hashtag her team created has been used in over 500 posts on social media.
“It’s really painted health care providers in the light of the heroes who are protecting society from this pandemic,” Jambhekar said.
The influencers within the medical and dental fields raised money for a GoFundMe the group launched. The money raised through the GoFundMe is all funding masks, she said.
Stone said the medical community was shocked when COVID-19 cases began to increase and the world effectively shut down. She said she and other medical professionals had to rethink how to contribute to society and help patients and colleagues, as a lot of her surgeries are elective.
“We were all kind of holding our breath,” Stone said.
She said the group is in the process of organizing a fundraiser across social media to continue to collect funds to purchase more masks.
Richard Ash, a lecturer at the Kelley School of Business, said he has been involved with this project since it began during the Idea Sprint Weekend. Ash said he has been the faculty adviser for this group, personally funded its initial website launch and has helped them make connections with local hospitals in Indiana.
Ash said he has been staying in touch with the group and gives them any advice they need to plan strategically and grow. He said he asked to be part of a health care initiative during the Idea Sprint Weekend because his wife works in health care and it was of particular interest to him.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” Ash said.
He said he has been giving the group advice on becoming a nonprofit organization and has given the group connections in Indiana. He works to connect the group with the appropriate contacts in the organizations they are collaborating with such as IU Health, donation locations and the Kelley School of Business Department of Marketing to set up donations and helps them if they have any issues
“The one thing that stands out to me about this particular project is a collaboration across functions and competencies,” Ash said. “There’s a willingness for different groups to get involved.”