Alumni spotlight: Prea and Kathleen Khan create shields for NYC frontline workers

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several people continuing to help those who risk their lives to save others everyday. Although they are not frontline workers, alumni Prea and Kathleen Khan are among many members of the Townsend Harris community that give aid to those fighting on the front lines by supplying face shields.  

Prea and Kathleen, Class of 2016 and 2018 alumni respectively, worked with several family members to start an initiative to make face shields and deliver them to hospitals throughout the city. Kathleen explained that “the idea originated from [her] mother’s drive to help the front line workers…[and they] began making face shields out of pocket, and soon realized other people wanted to help.” She mentioned her first-hand account of the virus and the effect that it had on her loved ones and their mission, which “served to further our desire to do our part and stop the spread. Some of our family members have gotten better, but others are still fighting, and [recently] our great aunt Rose lost her battle.” 

The production process from beginning to end is rather tedious, and starts with materials including plastic, elastic, and foam. “First we cut all of the materials to the proper size… then attach the foam strips by exposing the self adhesive side to the plastic,” Prea explained. “Our mom cleans up the finished product and … our dad delivers to hospitals and EMS stations.” Some of their methods have changed since the start of this project such as switching from a drill to a hot rod in order to ensure durability and orderliness. 

The Khans added a finishing touch that distinguished their face shields from others. “The best part, we finish them off by writing ‘Hero’ on the top left corner. In the beginning when we were deciding what to write on [the] shields we were brainstorming between ‘Hope,’ ‘Love,’ ‘Care’ and ‘Faith,’” Prea said. “But given the sacrifice that our healthcare providers are making to treat our loved ones, ‘Hero’ seemed the most fitting.”

Since the start of this initiative, Prea expressed that they have delivered around 1,000 face shields to Elmhurst Hospital, Queens General Hospital, Queens General Hospital, Jamaica Hospital, Northwell Health, Glen Oaks Volunteer Ambulance Corps, EMS Stations 47, 50, and the Queens Tactical Response Group. In addition to making these face shields, Prea helps her community as a volunteer first responder for the Glen Oaks Volunteer Ambulance.

As frontline workers continue to risk their lives every day in hope that the pandemic will end, Kathleen advises citizens to stay home. In response to those who do not do so, she added, “You can never understand the pain of listening to the staggered breaths of your family members as they tell you they are done fighting. You can never understand what it feels like to give an empty apology to your loved ones, asking for forgiveness in them having died alone. You can never withstand the ache of watching your parents tears and hearing their cries, and knowing there is nothing you can do.” She emphasized, “listen to the healthcare professionals and the medical experts, and stay home.” 

The Khans requested that The Classic note that they have stopped production since their grandmother passed away due to the coronavirus. “Our Grandma was one of the most important people in our lives,” Prea expressed.“After her death, we couldn’t bring ourselves to make more.”