Stephanie Du ’21’s Homespun Efforts for Community Health

When Stephanie Du ’21’s grandfather was diagnosed with a heart condition, the necessity to protect those most vulnerable to COVID-19 became all the more poignant. “I am currently living with my grandparents, who are both immunocompromised. As someone who is very close to their grandparents, I just wanted to do something that will help protect more vulnerable populations,” she says.

Noting nationwide mask shortages, Du applied for and was awarded a Laspa Center for Leadership Community Action Grant to make and distribute masks to nursing homes and homeless shelters. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, the severity of severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, and “eight out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the United States have been among adults aged 65 years and older.” The Coalition for Homelessness notes that the homeless population has increased vulnerability to COVID-19 due to “much higher rates of serious underlying health problems, [a general] lack access to quality health care, and no way to self-quarantine.”

Du began the project by working with her grandfather’s home healthcare worker, who was eager to distribute the masks to her colleagues and patients. Now, Du spends her days contacting facilities and producing orders. “I start by trimming the cloth to the right mask size. Then I spend the next few days sewing them together. I combine using the sewing machine and hand sewing,” Du explains. To date, she has fulfilled one order of 25 masks and work is underway to fulfil a second order of 50 more.

For the biology major, this project was just one step of many on her path to eventually becoming an EMT and then a physician’s assistant (PA). In addition to her community work on campus with Scripps Challah, Du is an active member of the Emergency Medical Services Club; she is also a food columnist at The Student Life. Together, Du and other members of the Emergency Medical Services club from across The Claremont Colleges are implementing the mask-making project in cities across California as well as in Washington, Illinois, and Minnesota. She will also be using grant funds on a tutoring project to provide resources and lessons to students for free. Du demonstrates at-home science experiments over Zoom, such as “elephant’s toothpaste,” a reaction that produces a foamy substance by combining hydrogen peroxide and yeast.

“The mask making and tutoring projects are both rooted in helping people, as well as working in a team setting. These are all important qualities to have as an EMT or PA. As a future healthcare worker, it is part of my job to educate people on public health and help them stay safe and healthy,” Du says. She adds, “The Laspa Center values aspects such as leadership and service. It has encouraged me to seize this opportunity to help my community during a pandemic. The grant really isn’t about me or how I got it. I think it’s more about seizing opportunities to work with others to help the communities around us.”