Modeled after Time Magazine’s annual honor, the Town Crier’s Los Altans of the Year, now in its 26th year, recognizes local residents who have spread goodwill through their good deeds, enhancing Los Altos’ reputation as a community.
Typically, the honors have gone to older recipients with a long, demonstrated record of volunteerism and impact. But 2020 was no typical year. It has forced us to see and do things differently.
We were struck by how many of our “heroes” were young people who really stepped up and made a difference. They did so despite dealing with their own challenges with remote education, cancellation of school sports and a host of other unprecedented obstacles.
Throughout the year, the Town Crier ran numerous stories of young people doing everything from delivering groceries to isolated seniors to counseling fellow students through personal crises. Regrettably, there are far more who deserve recognition than we have space for.
We ultimately selected five young recipients in three distinct categories: Angelina Lue for her COVID response; Riley Simonsen and Kelly Lam for their focus on mental health; and Kenan Moos and Kiyoshi Taylor for advocating for racial justice.
In the early days of the pandemic, as life as we knew it changed rapidly and dramatically before our eyes, Los Altos High School student Angelina Lue set her sights on making a difference.
Her COVID response efforts have garnered her Los Altan of the Year honors.
Lue’s plan started when a friend told her that his mom was working at a hospital in San Jose administering COVID-19 tests to patients without even having a mask to protect herself. Lue said that was “really shocking” to her, and then she started to see nurses on social media, begging for personal protective equipment.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I don’t want to just watch this happen,’” said Lue. “People … are risking their lives, and we can’t even provide the bare minimum protection.”
She reached out to friends through social media, asking if anyone would be interested in working on a project to support frontline workers. A few responded, and she and four friends set up a GoFundMe page, raising money to buy masks for medical workers.
The page started rapidly racking up donations – today more than $16,000 has been collected – and Lue set about the task of purchasing masks. At that time, masks were in short supply and often difficult to source, but Lue had experience that would come in handy.
When she was in eighth grade, Lue founded Ivory Tees after learning about the elephant poaching crisis. Ivory Tees sells clothing, which Lue designs, and all the profits are donated to fostering baby elephant orphans through the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Through Ivory Tees, Lue had experience working with clothing suppliers and was able to reach out directly to mask sellers. In many cases, they were based in China and spoke Mandarin, but Lue’s mother was able to help translate.
Fighting for Heroes
In total, 40,850 masks were purchased with the money donated. The vast majority were surgical masks, plus roughly 200 N95s.
According to Lue, they decided to focus on surgical masks because N95s were expensive and difficult to source, while surgical masks were much easier to buy in bulk and were also needed by hospitals.
When Lue and her friends started the project, which they dubbed Fighting for Heroes, she said they expected to be able to donate 1,000 or 2,000 masks, which seemed like an “ambitious” goal.
“We just had no idea that we were going to be able to reach so many people, and so many people would support us,” Lue said. “We had no idea that we were going to donate 40,000-plus masks.”
Ultimately, those masks went to more than 30 health-care centers around the nation, including hospitals throughout the Bay Area, as well as major hospitals in New York City and Chicago.
As the pandemic wore on, the mask shortage lessened at large hospitals, which were able to find more secure supply chains. Fighting for Heroes then shifted to supporting smaller nursing home and health-care centers, which were still in need. Fighting for Heroes also contributed money to a mask fundraiser, organized by one of Lue’s friends, in support of Navajo Nation, which has been hard hit by the pandemic. Lue additionally helped her friend purchase the masks themselves.
Although she didn’t realize at first how large her project would become, Lue said Fighting for Heroes helped give her and the others who worked on it a sense of purpose in the early days of the pandemic, when it was easy to feel lost.
“It also gave us hope,” she said. “Even though we don’t know where the light is at the end of the tunnel, we know there is an end of the tunnel, especially when we all work together.”