Healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic face challenges such as lack of personal protective equipment, resistance from the federal government, and pushback from anti-lockdown protesters. Amid these challenges, a group of Penn students is seeking to boost the morale of those on the front lines of the crisis.
Lockdown Letters, founded by six Penn undergraduates and one Cornell student, is an initiative encouraging people to write customized letters of appreciation to healthcare workers.
The letters will be distributed to healthcare workers at Penn Medicine and seven other hospital systems around the country. Letters can be written or typed and submitted through the group's website.
College junior and founding member Preethi Kumaran said the team came up with the idea during the first few weeks of quarantine, when the uncertainty and lack of preparation intensified the already difficult jobs of healthcare workers.
“There were just so many stories of the horrors that frontline workers were facing every day, and there were a lot of common themes, including how thankless, discouraging, and demotivating the job was,” Kumaran said. “This was one of the easiest ways it felt we could be a part of what’s going on right now and support the community.”
Kumaran said another motivation behind Lockdown Letters' mission was protests against lockdowns. Citing viral messages from healthcare workers saying, "We stay here for you. Please stay home for us," she criticized protesters for complaining about having to stay at home while workers clock in long hours fighting the pandemic.
“They face so much adversity, and it’d be nice to be a source of positivity in their lives right now,” Kumaran said.
College junior and founding member Heta Patel added that quarantine deprived students of in-person community service opportunities, which forced the group to be creative.
“We felt we were missing that and wanted to help out, and felt this was the best way to do it,” Patel said.
Although the team is currently partnered with eight hospitals, the co-founders said they expect that number to increase. College junior and co-founder Youvin Chung added that the goal is to eventually expand letter deliveries to other workers, such as social workers and grocery store employees.
Lockdown Letters’ Facebook page, which is the team’s primary source of outreach, has garnered nearly 400 likes since its April 18 creation. The team said its audience encompasses many more demographics than college students.
Kumaran said the ability to scan handwritten letters, which enabled children as young as three years old to practice their handwriting and decorate the remainder of the page with stickers, makes the initiative feel more personal.
The team, which began outreach a week ago, has received 40 letters that will be sent out by the end of the month.
College junior and founding member Rupa Palanki said the idea was positively received by the hospitals the team partnered with. College sophomore and co-founder Joey Lohmann added that the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center was so excited that it decided to arrange a special gallery to showcase the letters.
College junior Rebecca Avigad found out about Lockdown Letters through Kumaran, and said she was grateful for the opportunity to thank frontline workers for their service.
“It was incredibly easy to sit for five to ten minutes and write a letter to someone who is spending hours and hours every day putting themselves in danger,” she said. “Projects like this are exactly the kind of easy thing that everyone should be doing.”
To ensure the struggles and voices of the frontline workers do not go unheard, the team dedicated a section of its website to upload their stories.
“We still hear about how there’s a lack of personal protective equipment, they’re at increased risk of exposure, they’re working overtime, and when they do go home, they have to social distance from their families,” College junior and founding member Samira Mehta said.
Kumaran said she encourages everyone to participate in writing letters.
"It doesn’t take long to write a letter,” she said. “It’s less than a 10-minute process, and we need as much participation as possible so that we can support our frontline workers."