Overwhelming community response helps WSU students provide COVID-19 relief



These two images show some of the supplies that a group of local college students collected for the homeless community in Wichita. The supplies include basic needs like water, food and hygiene products.

A group of local college students, friends since high school, have spent years supporting causes around Wichita — and this year’s COVID-19 pandemic spurred them into action once again. 

The students – Abraham Arias, Jianna Cousin, Alyrique Franklin, Shania Tran, and Lexi Van – have raised nearly $1,000 for a project aimed at helping Wichita’s homeless community weather the pandemic. 

More than 50 “blessing bags” filled with safety and hygiene supplies will be distributed around downtown Wichita at the end of the month, thanks to the group’s crowdfunding campaign. 

Donations collected through Venmo and Cash App were used to purchase personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, as well as first aid supplies, snacks, basic clothing items, and toiletries. The team also created an Amazon wish list as an alternative to cash donations.

“We’re not part of the homeless community, and we’re already backordered on the masks and gloves, so it’s so hard to imagine how they’re feeling, not being able to have any access to things,” said Van, a nursing major. “Our goal was to get all these things for them just so they can feel … more comfortable being outside and being around people during this pandemic.”

The students received half the items on the Amazon wish list within one day of posting it on Twitter, Van said. The next day, on May 31, they met their cash goal. 

The original call for donations, posted by Cousin, was retweeted more than 130 times. Many of the donations were small, around $5-$10, Van said, but they received far more than they were expecting. 

“It adds up so quickly,” she said. “So many people want to participate and it was just amazing. It honestly warms my heart so much to see the Wichita community come together like this.”

All five students grew up in Wichita and attended Northeast Magnet together. Cousin now attends Clark Atlanta University in Georgia, but the students still come together for projects like this one. 

“Every year my friends and I try to do some sort of impact during this time,” said Tran, who is studying dental hygiene. “We’ve done things for Pride Month, we’ve done things for Black History Month … Our main goal is to protect and support unsheltered individuals and just get back to the community.”

Homelessness in Sedgwick County jumped about 3.5% from 2018 to 2019, as identified by the United Way Point-in-Time Homeless Count. Prior years saw changes of less than 1%. 

In an effort to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, some homeless shelters in Wichita are operating at limited capacities. As summer weather starts to set in, Tran said people who are homeless could especially need basic necessities like water and hygiene supplies. 

I just think it’s beautiful to see young generations using their platform, no matter how small or big it is, to make a change, make a difference in the world.

— Lexi Van, WSU student

In addition to basic supplies, the blessing bags will include drinkable vitamin C immunity shots and info cards describing CDC-recommended safety measures, like social distancing, mask-wearing and proper hand-washing. 

“It’s just like these things you see on the media, but not everyone has access to that,” Tran said. “So they don’t really [have] the information on how to do it correctly.”

Any leftover supplies will be donated to the Wichita Crisis Center, along with a check for more than $300. 

Support for the project, which they are calling “ICT x COVID-19 Relief Blessing Bags,” has been overwhelming, Van said, particularly among peers and friends. 

“I just think it’s beautiful to see young generations using their platform, no matter how small or big it is, to make a change, make a difference in the world,” she said. “There’s so many things that we’ve been silent on, and so many things that we can do, and we’re finally doing it.”