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It’s no secret 17-year-old girls can be boy-crazy. But instead, Susanna Lau and Lana Nguyen, seniors at San Francisco’s Washington High School, are crazy about aiding low-income students like themselves.

To dispense free basic school supplies that might lead to academic success, the two last May founded SupplyHopeInfo, a charity that aims to solve a new problem wrought by the pandemic: that low-income students can’t rely on school resources for distance-learning. 

The organization, according to Lau, its head of communications, can help those students cope with “not having access to [sufficient] finances at home.”

Nguyen, SupplyHopeInfo’s head of network, adds that they expect to shrink “the disparity between lower-income students and academic success.”

Winston Kwong, one of the small contributors to SupplyHopeInfo’s GoFundMe campaign, lends some perspective: “Thank you for making sure that the kids that are already disadvantaged don’t continue to fall behind. Every child deserves to grow and thrive!”

The charity’s success is obvious: It’s already raised more than $40,000, and the total increases each week. Already it’s helped 1,750 students, from grade school to college, with more than 1,600 of them in the Bay Area. 

Materials distributed by the SupplyHopeInfo team include paper, notebooks, pencils, markers and erasers. (Photo courtesy of SupplyHopeInfo)

Lau and Nguyen, and their team of five, have also compiled a list of 60 sources, intended for students and parents, that highlights where financial support might be available and where food pantries and COVID-19 testing sites are located.

The two leaders still want to expand, however, partially because the pandemic has created hardships that have resulted in even more low-income families. They’re therefore focusing on writing community grants.

What they’ve accomplished so far, however, hasn’t gone unnoticed. Jennifer Siebel Newsom, feminist film documentarian, actress and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s First Lady, whom the girls have never met, posted on Facebook and Instagram that she’s proud of them.

Recipients also sing their praises. 

Nguyen N., for example, said, “I come from a low-income background and am easily afraid of catching COVID. SupplyHopeInfo has helped me overcome both barriers. I had materials shipped to my door that I am … using for my senior year!”

When SupplyHopeInfo first began, Lana Nguyen recalled, “we reached out to our own families and friends,” but the charity soon “expanded to immigrants, minorities and the underserved” in the Tenderloin, Bayview-Hunters Point, Chinatown and Fillmore districts of San Francisco.

Because would-be recipients who fill out intake forms outnumber available supplies, the young ladies use a lottery system to determine which families receive in-stock items.

Supplies are linked to grade levels, but all packages have pencils, erasers and sharpeners, and some have binders, folders and compasses. Elementary school packets usually contain crayons and markers, while high school and college deliveries include pens, highlighters and notebooks. 

Deliveries, of course, are contact free. 

Young recipients use crayons from the school supply box distributed by SupplyHopeInfo. (Photo courtesy of SupplyHopeInfo)

The charity — which accepts donations of money or supplies via email has partnered with outfits like APA Family Support Services, Asian prenatal advocates who help at-risk families. 

SupplyHopeInfo has also reached out beyond the Bay Area, giving to Rose Haven, a Portland, Oregon nonprofit that aids homeless and abused women and children, and to the Macau True Goodwill General Association, which assists people in rural areas of Macau, China.

Lau and Nguyen became friends as sophomores after meeting at Minds Matter San Francisco, a college-prep program that helped them surmount academic barriers associated with their financial situation.

Despite their good intentions, “we didn’t have any knowledge of how to start (a charity),” admitted Nguyen. “So we took a risk and just did it, hoping maybe it could inspire other people.”

Lau, whose home is an Excelsior district basement with her mother, adds that now she and Nguyen “have no end date. We’re just trying to make an impact.” 

Nguyen, who does schoolwork in a closet in her family’s studio in the Tenderloin and who as a kid had to decide between food and school supplies, labels their efforts “a success,” and believes “that creating SupplyHopeInfo can carry over into my future.”