Though separated by a malfunctioning Zoom dashboard, I could see the passion radiating from youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak when I met the team for the first time. “How can we contribute to our society? How do we make a difference?”, asked Sky Yang, founder and Chief Executive Officer of the group. “It is our responsibility as members of the community to stop the COVID-19 outbreak from spreading and endangering more people.”
More than fifteen teenagers from across the country were constituents of this virtual board meeting, where the team discussed their recent impact on the community, sources of funding, and plans for the future. I found myself nodding with silent pride for my generation. Despite the onslaught of Advanced Placement testing, final exams, and pre-college drudgery, so many students have dedicated their time and tears towards addressing the outbreak — an effort that was thoroughly refreshing to watch. Over the past three months, a handful of teenagers established ten chapters across three states, received thousands of dollars in donations, and collectively distributed more than five hundred masks to local communities. Impressed and slightly intimidated by this nonprofit’s meteoric rise, I decided to chat with the teenagers who made it happen.
Sky Yang, Founder and CEO of Break the Outbreak
How did Break The Outbreak begin? Were there any obstacles you faced during the initial stages of founding the organization?
In the beginning, I realized that people don’t have a centralized platform to post about COVID-19 necessities and assistance. Instead, I found hundreds of posts on platforms like Facebook, NextDoor, Reddit, and Instagram. Inspired, I spent three straight days and nights to construct our website — https://breaktheoutbreak.org/.
This was just the beginning. At the time, I still had a few months of school left and managed to recruit four like-minded students from the city. Once I formed a small team, we were on the move — buying supplies, editing the website, and trying to figure out what places needed our help. Eventually, we decided to direct our attention to different stages of the food industry, from farmer’s markets to grocery stores to restaurants.
In April, we partnered with a local Rigatoni’s, and Break the Outbreak took off from there. It was difficult at first. Our operations were small at the time, and we had to finance them on our own. Without a relationship with local establishments, we faced initial rejections from many restaurants. But we persevered and forged a student network with San Ramon. After gaining traction among local farmers’ markets, we expanded in cities like Fremont, Pleasanton, Roseville, Salt Lake City, Chillicothe, Los Angeles, and San Jose.
For our readers who may not be familiar with your cause, could you describe what “Break The Outbreak” does?
Break The Outbreak is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to donating masks, face shields, and money to local businesses in order to keep them afloat during the current times of global pandemic as well as when the pandemic is eradicated. The meaning behind the title “Break The Outbreak” simply means: breaking out of the current outbreak of pandemic and rising from the rubble it has created.
Lizzie Davies, Director of Livermore Chapter
Tell us a little more about your group’s experience in making masks? What kind of technology is required? How do you maintain safety and sanitary standards?
Making masks was actually quite difficult at first. We had many problems with the quality of the masks not being good enough and having to get rid of them. It took us a while to get a small subsection of individuals that would do a good job and produce high-quality masks. We had to learn how to use a sewing machine as well as be meticulous with our work. We couldn’t settle for something mediocre, so often times masks had to be redone to ensure that they were safe enough. Face shields on the other hand were quite easy to make. To maintain sanitary standards, all of the materials are cleaned beforehand — the cloth is thoroughly washed and all shield materials are wiped down with disinfectant. All materials are then cleaned a second time once it has been assembled.
Adithya Krishnaraj, Director of San Ramon Chapter
Here’s a simple tutorial documenting how Break the Outbreak makes their face shields!
Over the course of your time with “Break the Outbreak”, have there been any notable stories about students you’ve worked with or projects you’ve initiated that you would like to share?
I remember the first time we ever donated and it was at Rigatoni’s in Dublin. I remember that we were pretty nervous in that donation because none of us had done anything like this before and we really didn’t know how to approach it. We just went in and talked to the staff and they gratefully accepted our donations. It was a great feeling being able to donate to people in need and knowing that these donations will help save lives. It was a great day and kicked off our operation as Break the Outbreak. I think the most positive response we’ve experienced has been from Banana Garden in Dublin. When I talked to the owners Luis and Aldo over the phone, they were very encouraging of our operation and were delighted to see us when we arrived to donate. Though we were social distancing and all wearing masks, I could see the happiness on Aldo’s face when we handed him the box of PPE and he got the whole staff to try our face shields on then and there. Luis was very grateful and offered us tokens of their appreciation as well. It was a nice gesture and an enjoyable experience which made us all happy to be part of Break the Outbreak.
Ansh Tripathi, Associate Founder
5) There are millions of adults working ‘round the clock to promote safety and awareness. Why do you think it’s important for young people to contribute to these efforts as well?
I’ve seen people die due to the virus. I’ve seen people lose jobs due to the virus. I’ve seen companies shut down due to the virus. I want the world to return to normalcy when people aren’t skeptical of each other, when we can sit in classrooms for school, and when everyone isn’t afraid of a global pandemic. Since most young people are quarantined at home doing nothing during these hard times, I think it is important to contribute to society. We can do our part and help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Sam Zhou, Director of Roseville Chapter
What advice can you give other young teenagers who want to make a difference during these nebulous circumstances?
When people try to tell you that your plan isn’t going to work, you’re too young to make a difference, or your voice is unimportant in a world full of powerful adults, you cannot let their words stop you from moving forward. There will always be people that will try to tell you that you’re either not good enough or you won’t succeed, but if you believe that you will succeed, then you will. Letting people’s harsh words pollute your conscious won’t allow progress to be made.
Lizzie Davies, Director of Livermore Chapter
Break the Outbreak is a powerful reminder of how initiative sprouts from adversity. It’s the kind of sprawling endeavor that requires a medley of both courage and compassion from its members. It’s evidence that young people want to make a difference, and will.
For more information, follow BTOB on their social media platforms:
Make the movement work! Be sure to contribute to their Gofundme page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/we-break-the-outbreak
Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, editor-in-chief of her school news magazine The Roar and the Director of Media Outreach for nonprofit Break the Outbreak. Find Kanchan on Instagram (@kanchan_naik_)