Rishi Vanga, a junior at Buhach Colony High School, didn’t wait for his teachers’ “distance learning” plans to venture into an incredible and meaningful educational experience during the current stay-at-home orders.
“I don’t even know if my school knows I’m doing this,” the 17-year-old Atwater resident says.
Actually, there are a lot of people who know.
If the website Vanga created didn’t give it away, the recent TV interview he did with KSEE24 certainly did.
As the COVID-19 pandemic started to tighten its grip on Merced County last month, Vanga became inspired to lend a hand to this area’s at-risk homeless community.
The spark came when he found himself outside a Goodwill in Merced and a homeless woman approached.
“I gave her $5 and asked her if she knew about the coronavirus,’” Vanga says. “She said no, and that’s when I realized we had a big problem.”
Vanga went home and began formulating a plan to prepare hygiene kits filled with things like hand sanitizer, masks, baby wipes, soap and other supplies.
He decided to call them “Kare Packages.”
“Homeless people often can’t self isolate like the rest of us during this pandemic,” Vanga says. “And they can’t just walk into a store and get hand sanitizer. … These Kare Packages are just about opening up options for people who don’t really have options.”
To fund the endeavor, Vanga came up with an idea to ask caring residents around the area to individually sponsor a package. He set up a donation website, and his parents jumped in and helped spread the word to everybody they knew.
After a few weeks, Vanga put together 84 sponsored Kare Packages and handed them out. Most went directly to the Merced Rescue Mission which has a network to safely deliver the kits.
Vanga says he wants to keep the Kare Packages going even after the current pandemic subsides. “There is still the common flu to worry about. It kills thousands of people every year. We still have to make sure everyone is safe.”
The teenager is certainly getting a lot of attention for the cause. Even one of his teachers, “Miss Holl,” gave him a recent shout out on Twitter: “Love seeing my kiddos be helpers and givers,” she tweeted.
Vanga says he has learned a lot about community support for the homeless, and how thankful homeless people can be when they know people care.
“There are really good people out there who have had a bad circumstance,” the student says. “I have learned to be more open to the homeless community.”
If you would like to help Vanga by sponsoring a Kare Package, visit the website at: karepackages.com, or email: [email protected]