A pair of Rice MBA students are using their business skills to give medical staff and the economy a boost amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

MBA students Coco Ma and Kathleen Harcourt have created a nonprofit organization, #SnacksForMedStaff, to deliver free meals to medical staff who are treating patients infected with COVID-19. “Medical staff are making tough choices and working hard to protect our community,” said Ma, who studies marketing and entrepreneurship at the Jones Graduate School of Business.

The nonprofit has raised more than $16,000 through an online fundraising campaign. The money is used to buy meals and energy drinks from restaurants and stores for delivery to hospitals in Houston and around the country. By forming partnerships with local restaurants to send food directly to hospitals, they’re able to maximize their donations and support small businesses, too.

By late April, more than 2,000 meals had been delivered to several Houston-area hospitals, including Houston Methodist, Ben Taub, Memorial Hermann The Woodlands, Lyndon B. Johnson, CHI St. Luke’s Health-Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, Davam Urgent Care, Aspire and HCA Houston Healthcare in Conroe. Deliveries have also been made to hospitals in New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania and California.

“They always tell us how incredibly grateful they are and how much it means to them that we are doing this,” said Harcourt, who is studying finance at the Jones School. “Many of them are stressed out and exhausted, and receiving a small token of thanks really lifts their spirits to keep going forward. We have had a few times where tears were brought to their eyes because someone had thought of them.”

Taking care of health care workers is dear to Ma, who grew up in Hangzhou, China, where her mother is a hospital administrator. “In the past two months, I have seen so many heartbreaking stories about front-line medical workers passing away due to the coronavirus,” she said. “Many health care workers had mental or physical breakdowns because they lacked personal protective equipment and [had] heavy workloads.”

Ma said her mother’s hospital has treated thousands of COVID-19 patients. “I remember one day my mom sent me a message saying she went to work that morning but the hospital couldn’t give her a mask because they had run out,” she said. “But everyone still worked hard to treat patients like any other day.”

After watching Chinese media coverage of people sending food and energy drinks to health care workers there, Ma proposed doing something similar in the United States. Harcourt loved the idea.

“At first, we only intended to spend our money and just send a few meals, but once our classmates found out what we were doing, they started giving donations and sending us contacts at hospitals,” Harcourt said. #SnacksForMedStaff, she said, has given her and Ma a sense that they are making a difference.

“Tiny Acts of Kindness,” a project from Rice’s Office of Public Affairs, features stories about Rice Owls responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in kind, creative and effective ways. Read the Rice Magazine series here.

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