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They send medical supplies to those in need worldwide. Now this VCU group is focusing locally.

Every Friday for the past four years, Virginia Commonwealth University students volunteering with the student organization United2Heal have been sorting through surplus medical supplies collected from local hospitals and clinics.
a student volunteer packs up medical supplies in a cardboard box for shipping

Right: United2Heal student volunteers have been emptying a storage unit filled with masks and protective gear and donating the equipment to VCU Health and Riverside Regional Medical Center during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past, those supplies have been sent to organizations around the world, but now in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization is focusing its efforts locally. Right after spring break, VCU senior Maryum Elnasseh, one of United2Heal’s nine executive board members, started hearing that hospitals around the country were running low on masks.

“We knew we had a supply of masks, and we were trying to figure out what we could do,” said Elnasseh, who is studying journalism in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture and political science in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

That’s when the group decided to take a more local approach by providing materials to VCU Health through one of the group’s advisers, Sudha Jayaraman, M.D., an associate professor of surgery in the School of Medicine and a surgeon at the health system.

Five of United2Heal’s board members, practicing social distancing, recently sorted through supplies to find masks to donate to VCU Health and Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News.

“We wanted as few people as possible sorting,” said Elnasseh, a member of the VCU Honors College. “There were no lights in the storage unit, and we had to go through dozens of boxes. We were using our phones as flashlights.”

Jayaraman found it humbling to be a recipient of the work being done by United2Heal. “I thought it was amazing for such young and eager folks to take on this noble cause to take care of people around the world,” she said. “We at the School of Medicine have routinely collected and donated materials to them.”

"There were no lights in the storage unit, and we had to go through dozens of boxes. We were using our phones as flashlights."

In the past, United2Heal has donated supplies to organizations such as NuDay Syria, a nonprofit working to secure aid for Syrian mothers and children, and REACH 4 Ghana, which helps improve the health and well-being of rural Ghanaians.

REACH 4 Ghana, or Rural Education and Community Health for Ghana, is a student-led nonprofit that three medical students in the VCU School of Medicine founded in 2010. The organization sent its first team of 15 health sciences students to Ghana in 2011.

Volunteering with United2Heal has given Elnasseh a sense of purpose, she said.

“You see tragedies around the world, and you feel helpless. Being a part of this has been inspiring because it’s student- and volunteer-led. It’s all of us coming together every week,” she said. “When we receive pictures of our shipment arriving at hospitals and seeing them using the very same supplies that we were holding in our own hands and packing into boxes just months before, [it’s] mind-blowing.”

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