Shah Organizes Clothing Drive to Make Masks in Pandemic

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Vaani Shah

Fischell Department of Bioengineering (BIOE) rising senior Vaani Shah was recently honored with the departmental Extraordinary Service Award, recognizing her outstanding leadership and volunteerism during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Shah elected to declare a bioengineering major in Fall 2017 because of her interests in medicine and innovation. “I had always been interested in clinical research and was attracted to the large role biotechnology and engineering play in medical practice,” explains the rising senior. Shah works as a Departmental Honors Student in BIOE Associate Professor Steven Jay’s Biotherapeutic Development and Delivery Laboratory. She has also worked as a Teacher’s Assistant for BIOE 241 (Biocomputational Methods). “It has been especially rewarding to see my students better grasp basic engineering concepts and apply these concepts both in and out of the classroom,” says Shah. 

When the COVID-19 crisis struck, Vaani Shah used social media to organize a clothing drive in the Villages of Urbana to collect new and lightly used T-shirts for mask making. She coordinated “no-contact” pickups with local families. Many hospitals and health care facilities have been in dire need of personal protective equipment (PPE) including face masks throughout the pandemic. Shah had already been volunteering at her local Department of Community Health (DCH), and when the pandemic struck, in-person volunteer work was suspended. 

“The nature of my service changed drastically when in-person volunteering was suspended,” says Shah. “ When informed of the need for PPE by my volunteer coordinator, I thought making cloth masks would be an easy and effective way to help my community. Since then, I have worked to make and deliver masks to the DCH Emergency Department. These masks are provided to employees, visitors, and patients that present to the Emergency Department without protective facial coverings.” Shah has also donated hundreds of masks to Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham, MD, which received a large inflow of patients from Prince George’s County. 

Amidst the pandemic, Vaani Shah has also volunteered weekly at the Frederick Community Action Agency to pack bags with up to 3-5 days of food for underprivileged families in the area. “With many of our local neighbors finding themselves laid off or having reduced hours, this means many hard-working people need some help to provide for their families,” explains Shah. “This is where places like the Frederick Community Action Agency (FCAA) come in- to fill the gap during the pandemic and in times of need. My mom and I began volunteering at the FCAA when more volunteers were needed to keep up with the increased demand for food bank services.”

The FCAA alone has recently experienced a 50% increase in demand for emergency food boxes for members of the community. These bags include 3-5 days of food with nonperishable items. A common box includes grains, multiple cans of vegetables, soups, beans, and snacks. The National Guard has been working with the FCAA to collect and distribute these boxes in Maryland. 

“It has been absolutely amazing and refreshing to see the Fischell Department and Clark School students’ involvement in providing aid during this time,” says Shah. “To me, this exemplifies one of the most important qualities in an engineer- the desire to problem solve and provide help where it is needed. Our students have given back in such a wide variety of ways and I am honored to be recognized as one of them.”

Shah encourages everyone with the resources to donate to their local food bank, as nationwide demands continue to increase drastically. 

Published June 29, 2020