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SEATTLE - The COVID-19 crisis has raised new concerns about our health, especially for those experiencing homelessness. Thankfully, a Sammamish teenager is stepping up to make sure people without a home are still protected from the virus.
On a sunny Sunday in Seattle, people lined up to get meal and hygene kits, handed out by Liem Kaplan and his team.
“I want to give back and I enjoy doing this,” said 13-year-old Liem Kaplan.
Liem and a team of volunteers hand out plastic bags filled with masks, hand sanitizer, chapstick and more.
“When the pandemic first hit, Liem said, ‘I am really worried about the people who are unhoused,'" explained Liem's mother, Nancy Kaplan. "He was worried, 'They won’t be able to get mask. They won’t be able to get hand sanitizer.'”
Liem's committment to support others facing challenges come from a place of understanding. He has a few challenges of his own. He was born with two arms that are different, but a heart big enough to compensate.
The youngest of seven children and adopted from Vietnam at 11 months old, his family said Liem has always been a natural leader, even at an early age. At the age of six, he started coat drives and other campaigns for kids.
Liem Kaplan launched coat drives and other efforts to support people facing homelessness staring at the age of six
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Liem started making deliveries to organizations that support people facing homelessness, dropping off hundreds of masks.
He reached out on Facebook for help with the effort. People responded. So far, more than 5,000 masks have been donated.
5,000 masks have been donated to Liem Kaplan's The GivingHope Project.
We followed along as Liem dropped off more masks off at a courthouse and food bank in Issaquah.
“We haven’t had to buy any masks because people like Liem have just been donating them,” said Cori Walters, executive director for Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank.
While delivering masks, Liem learned many of the local organizations that deliver meals to people who are homeless had to stop those remote services due to the pandemic.
So again, he put out the call on social media, asking others for help in the cause.
Once again, the community responded. More than a dozen people created an assembly line on a rainy Wednesday in Sammamish. By the time their work was complete, they had hundreds of meal packs and hygene kits ready to be delivered to people living on the streets.
Liem has created his own nonprofit organization to support the effort. It's called The GivingHope Project. They have delivered more than 1,200 bagged lunches since the pandemic began.
13-year-old Liem Kaplan and The GivingHope Project hand out meals and hygiene kits in Downtown Seattle
“This is my first time ever being homeless and I don’t want to be like this,” said 62-year-old Tony, who visited The GivingHope Project donation station, set up next to the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle.
Tony has slept on the ground for the last several nights. The people from Liem's The GivingHope Project heard about his story and put him up in a hotel.
Tony called Liem “his 13-year-old angel.”
“He has a great, tremendous heart,” Tony said.
His mother said she's proud of her son for making a huge impact on people in need.
“He literally is changing lives and he’s doing it because it brings him joy and it makes him feel good,” said Nancy Kaplan.
How long can young Liem keep this up?
“Probably the rest of my life… because that’s what I like to do,” Liem said.
To help or donate a mask, visit his website at the Givinghopeproject.com.