Today, Evan is a Presidential Points of Light Award-winner for his work providing PPE to tens of thousands of people all around the United States. Mind you, he is 16, just got his driver’s license and is nearing the finish of his sophomore year at LHS. What he did in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shut down is nothing short of miraculous. He saw people in need and responded with a helping hand. In fact, not just his own hands, but the inspired hands of volunteers. The numbers are staggering: Over 150,000 PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) produced and distributed with the helping hands of more than 4,500 volunteers from all across America.
“When I started this, it was immediate family, friends, kind of testing this out,” said Osgood. “It’s grown to this massive organization. It’s been eye-opening to me to see just how powerful that community can be rallied behind a common goal. The ability to produce face-shields and kits with 4,500 people beyond the local area is astonishing to me. Compare that to one guy trying to sell masks and it’s night and day. I never imagined.”
A high school freshman has enough to figure out without having to suddenly figure out how to learn remotely, virtually, on a computer at home. Faced with the reality of a “Stay at Home Ohio” order from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Osgood could have crumbled under the stress of lost time with friends, teachers, classmates and all the socializing that is part of being a high school student. Somehow staring at a computer screen at home does not measure up. Sure, Evan Osgood felt that loss, felt that stress and anxiety, upset, maybe even a little bit of anger. He saw more than his own challenges. He saw news reports of COVID-19 spreading like wildfire causing sickness and death all around our nation; especially in New York City. Those people needed help. It was a time to rise up and help others, not fall into despair over closed schools and the new challenge of learning remotely.
“I was turning on the news and seeing those, sort of, surreal scenes in New York hospitals,” Osgood explained. “I was like, hey, I want to help.”
He did some research and discovered a “huge” PPE shortage. Osgood started sewing masks, but quickly found he could make only a few an hour. The realization set in, if he wanted to make a real impact to address the shortage, he would need to enlist the help of more people. What came next was the birth of SOS for PPE – essentially an organization to enlist volunteers to produce PPE’s for distribution.
“I had this idea, built the website and did some marketing,” said Osgood. “It exploded. . . to where we are now. It’s been an awesome journey.”
The journey from idea, to sewing some masks, enlisting family & friends, to building the SOS for PPE Website enlisting thousands of volunteers from around the USA was one Evan did not ever imagine. It has opened his eyes to what can happen with an idea and action instead of just watching what is happening and taking no action. All he wanted to do is make an impact. His impact was noticed and someone nominated him for the Points of Light Award. He didn’t ask for that, but he earned it and understands the impact of the award to reach even more people.
“It’s awesome,” Osgood said. “The more publicity we can get around this, the more masks we can make, the more lives we can save. Also, knowing that I’m making an impact on such a large stage is awesome.”
Osgood was pretty matter-of-fact (humble) when explaining how he came to win the award.
“I believe someone would have nominated me,” he explained. “Then I received an email from a representative, there was this big process of information (exchange) an interview and. . . they liked the program, so the award. It was very awe-inspiring something I worked on has come this far and been recognized on a stage at that level.”
It all began with that high school freshman watching news accounts of horrific pandemic conditions in New York. Early on, the idea to get more PPE to those in need required strategizing and facing the reality of a scarce supply of materials to even make the masks.
“You couldn’t get fabric, you couldn’t get latex,” he recalled. “I actually worked with some local healthcare experts on designing a face shield you could make with more (readily) available materials.”
Instead of latex, they used the kind of fabric used in swimming shorts. It functioned the same way and the material was available for purchase. Osgood defines their PPE as masks, face shields and even gloves with a primary focus on masks and face shields. They do provide some gloves, but they do not produce those. Another early challenge was getting the “foot in the door” reaching and engaging the volunteers as well as the initial donations of PPE.
“One of the things we did was local advertising,” said Osgood. “It was getting a notice up, getting that word of mouth out. Once we had those first few, we could actually start donating PPE
Once people began receiving the donated PPE, learned where it came from, they responded by spreading the word. That was the easiest form of marketing for SOS for PPE. They started making the PPE donations locally at first; to the high school, other local schools, and local care facilities.
“Initially, it was a local effort,” Osgood said. “Now, we go all over the U.S. We donated a whole bunch to the New York hospital system. At this point we go pretty evenly across the U.S.”
There was an obvious reason to start out locally, but New York was a centralized point of focus they could point to so much need there. The response was overwhelmingly positive. It was clear people wanted to help, but didn’t know how. They just needed the tools. The SOS for PPE organization provided the tools for free.
“All you have to do is volunteer an hour or so,” said Osgood. “You can make these kits and then send them off to actually help somebody.”
Here’s how it works: Volunteers sign up on the website SOS for PPE.org then a “kit” is shipped to them – basically a box with the materials needed to produce the PPE. Once they receive the kit, or kits, instructions and a video are available on the website to guide them on putting the masks together.
“They come in 20 piece kits that take about an hour,” said Osgood. “We give them a destination to ship it off to. They can give it to someone local. We try to give them a choice to keep it somewhat local to make an impact.”
The most popular kit is the face mask kit which produces 20 face masks. Volunteers can order as many kits as they wish. There is no charge to the volunteers. All the PPE they produce is donated. There is no charge to those who receive the end product Personal Protective Equipment.
“We work with, partner with some organizations to reduce the cost of the materials,” Osgood explained. “Most of the money comes from donations and grants. We’ll write a lot of grants to try to increase funding and make more kits.”
The Volunteers are all kinds of people. They donate kits to organizations where they use the kits as a “team building” exercise. Most are individuals who have the kits shipped to their home and assemble the PPE’s in the safety of their own home. Of course, family and friends were there at the start and continue to contribute. To be clear, this is all non-profit and Osgood says they are currently going through the process of acquiring 501-C3 (nonprofit) status. All donations are tax-deductible.
“Our volunteer network is growing exponentially,” said Osgood. “The more people are talking about it, the more people join.”
They recently surpassed 4,500 volunteers from across the country. Osgood says they are working to have volunteers from all 50 United States. He wouldn’t give up the exact number, but said they’re close, but not quite there yet. His message to others is if you have any idea you think might be crazy, go for it. Look what he’s done with an idea that morphed from sewing masks to distributing over 150,000 PPE with over 4,500 volunteers.
“The first thought is your crazy, right,” said Osgood. “It started out me sewing masks. We’ve seen it work quite well. The impact that has is so gratifying. Look at how big this has grown. We just hit 150,000 PPE distributed. The lives that impacts; the lives that saves is just huge.”