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Students Find Way to Nurture the Community During the Pandemic

News November 13, 2020


After learning about efforts to reopen Zion Cares, a community ministry of Zion Baptist Church, eight medical students from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine partnered with Zion Cares leaders to provide much-needed support in the form of COVID-19 protection kits, meals, groceries and medical information.

“Prior to the pandemic we were servicing Zion Cares as part of our service-learning curriculum,” says Laya Manoj, a second-year medical student at LKSOM. “The population Zion Cares serves faces food and housing insecurity, substance use disorders, chronic and mental health conditions. Prior to the pandemic our service took place every Sunday. We would give ‘Medical Moment’ information on relevant topics, take basic vital statistics, and answer medical questions for attendees. That all stopped when the church shut down in March due to COVID-19.”

Unable to provide weekly support and knowing the Zion Cares community was particularly vulnerable, the students were concerned.

“We were all thinking about how we could help, but it wasn’t until Yinka [Orayinka], one of the other students in the group, reached out to all of us that we started collaborating and planning for action,” says Manoj.

“As we were brainstorming ways that we could give back, our program requirements and our funding changed,” says second-year student Khyati Somayaji. “We came up with the idea of COVID protection kits and received a grant from TEAC (Temple Emergency Action Corp) to get the project started.”

“The grant covered initial costs of the COVID kits, but there were also out-of-pocket costs,” adds Manoj.

The group launched “LKSOM Students for Zion Cares COVID-19 Response Project” with an event in the courtyard of the MERB in July. 

LKSOM Student - Zion “The outreach events are held every two weeks and follow COVID-19 safety protocols,” says second-year student Ozichi Osuoha. “We only allow two participants in at one time, they enter through one side of the courtyard and exit out the other side, tables are spaced at least 6 feet apart, and face masks are required and provided for all volunteers and participants. We have volunteers handing out disposable masks to anyone who doesn’t have one.”

“The events are set up with four stations —- research, COVID kits, meals, and groceries,” Osuoha continues.

At the research station, volunteers hand out questionnaires to participants. They are asked questions about how they feel about wearing a mask, issues they are facing during the pandemic, and whether they’ve been able to get medical care among others. The answers allow the group to tailor events to the specific needs of the community.

The COVID kits contain two different groups of items —- first aid and sanitation.

“We included things like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, band-aids, and tissues along with soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and reusable fabric masks which were donated by Sew Face Masks Philadelphia,” says Somayaji.

“We also include infographics from other resources around Philadelphia about housing, mental health and COVID testing,” says Osuoha.

“And we designed an infographic about the importance of proper masking and how to protect others and prevent the spread of COVID,” adds Manoj.

At the meal station, participants are given a bag lunch.

“Meals have changed at each event,” says first-year student Orafidiya. “We’ve had WaWa hoagies and wraps as well as sandwiches from Franny Lou’s Porch in Kensington. We’ve also included fruit, chips, and cookies.”

At the final station, leaders of Zion Cares hand out groceries that have been donated by ShopRite.

A faculty advisor is always on-site, and each event attracts between 25 to 40 community members. The outreach is a true collaboration that benefits the community surrounding Temple University.

LKSOM Student - Zion

“Through these events we are welcoming the community into our space and allowing them to connect with students,” says Orafidiya. “We have no agenda other than serving their needs.”

“It’s an organic relationship we’re fostering,” adds Somayaji. “It’s all about give and take, especially during these difficult times.”

“We can see we’re having an impact on the community by their survey responses,” says Osuoha. “People are enthusiastic and say they want to see more of these events.”

“It’s also been positive for us to get out of our apartments and interact with each other and the community,” Manoj says. “And Reverend Brown wraps up the events with a socially distant prayer circle. That’s really nice.”

The LKSOM Students for Zion Cares COVID-19 Response Project welcomes  new volunteers and ideas for funding sources and can be reached at: