MedSupplyDrive Relief Work Started with COVID-19, Now Includes Support for Protestors

Graphic by Sarah Sarwar

When the hospitals started sending out distress calls for PPE in mid-March 2020, I was electrified and searching for a way to help, so I responded to a call on social media from a volunteer organization called MedSupplyDrive for a regional coordinator in NYC.

In the blink of an eye, the efforts for gathering PPE in all of NYC on behalf of a national organization lay on my shoulders.

On day 1, it was just me and my partner Charlie. We cold-called and emailed hundreds of places, heart in mouth, praying for someone to be generous. And people came through, offering gloves, masks, and more. By day 3, we were still alone, and gloves needed to be delivered, but we had no car. I’ve been a distance runner for over a decade at this point, so I pulled on my running shoes and battled the wind along the Hudson River Parkway for a 14 mile-round trip. I returned home sore and exhausted, but I felt exhilarated. I knew we were making a concrete impact and helping the providers who keep this city safe. But we couldn’t do it alone, and I was tired of waiting for people to find me.

So, as I always do when looking for solidarity and support, I turned to my queer community. I texted my friends, put out calls in the Facebook groups which have been a safe haven for years, and asked for all hands on deck. The NYC queer community, which has housed me when I had nowhere to go, fed me when I was hungry, and held me through my worst traumas and losses, came through in a landslide. My inbox was flooded with offers of support, and within hours we had a driver team. We had folks driving from Manhattan to Far Rockaway to pick up single n95s, calling hundreds and hundreds of small businesses, giving money out of their own thinly-lined pockets. Our volunteer Tea, a queer tattooer and astrologer, mobilized the tattooing community and brought in massive amounts of medical-grade gloves that undoubtedly saved lives. Brennan, a local theatre producer, connected us with hotels and secured hundreds of shower caps to be used as hair covers.

We were strangers in March, but have turned into a thriving albeit socially distanced family. It was precarious and turbulent aboard our rickety little relief ship at the beginning, but as the weeks have gone on and the pandemic has continued, we have found our sea legs. Our team continues to grow, made of people from all communities and walks of life, but largely composed of a queer core. We welcome people to continue joining our ranks, as this pandemic and the crises it has created are far from over. Whether here in NYC or anywhere across the nation, our website remains open to new volunteers and regional coordinators. We do not have chapters in every single state, and we would love for someone to step up in our underserved areas the way I did in NYC. Our donations continue to go wherever they are needed, but the ones we make to queer youth shelters and LGBTQ medical centers hold a special place in our hearts. We have connected with queer community organizations in every borough, and the ties that bind us together grow stronger by the day. Interacting with the medical system can be fraught for many queer people, and it can be rife with traumatic memories. But they continue to show up, and there is a particular nobility in those who fight to save a system that does not fight to save them.

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As the racist murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade brought our country to a flashpoint, we have expanded to gathering masks and medical supplies for protestors and street medics, and I am heartened to see the queer community continue to show up again and again. From jail support to street medic bridge training to protest organizing, I see my kin everywhere, and I am proud. Black queer organizers have been at forefront of organizing and relief work for a long time, and I am proud to stand in solidarity with them now as always. The pain is palpable. The grief is unending. But there is and always has been strength in numbers, and ours continue to grow. People who I met for the first time on Instagram have reached out to make sure I’m doing ok. We end every conversation, every text thread, every Zoom meeting by saying “stay safe.” We know all too well that it is not safe, but we wish it for each other anyways.

Sometimes, I make eye contact with a stranger at a rally and there is an unspoken acknowledgement, I see you. Call it a spidey sense, call it an instinct honed over years of being unable to speak our realities, but Queer Eye Contact exists. And it is the most comforting thing. I see you. You are not alone. We will get through this. Together.


COMMUNITY CHECK is a series about mutual aid and taking care of each other in the time of coronavirus.

Joya Ahmad is a queer woman of color living and working in NYC, applying to medical school, and serving on the national board of the nonprofit MedSupplyDrive. She is a distance runner, a private tutor, and a poet, and she owns way too many books but loves them all too much to ever downsize. She's a long-time reader of Autostraddle and a first-time contributor, and she is always looking for new opportunities to write. You can find her on Twitter at @many_themiles and follow MedSupplyDrive's NYC chapter at @medsupplydrivenyc.

Joya has written 1 article for us.

9 Comments

  1. I really love the Community Check series! It’s easy to feel powerless when problems are so big, and it has been inspiring to see what folks are doing to care for their communities.
    Thank you for the work you are doing, Joya!!

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! I completely agree that huge problems can feel totally overwhelming; that’s part of what drew me to this work in the first place. I’m glad this could bring a moment of hope to you in this tough time. Stay safe out there!

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