By Camryn Pak
The Giving Tree, a project designed by Stanford alumnus Gavin Mai ’18, uses its website and hotline to allow people all over the world to connect and help each other by delivering everyday items.
“I wanted to help out with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, but I couldn’t find any places where I could personally help,” Mai said. “So I decided to create a platform where people who wanted to help others could connect with those who need assistance.”
The project allows users in need to submit requests for deliveries, and volunteers who are registered on the website are able to view nearby requests and accept them. Prior to accepting a request and purchasing items, both the user in need and the volunteer are required to agree on a reimbursement method, according to The Giving Tree’s website.
“Aim for a contactless exchange of money, like Paypal, Venmo or another e-transfer method,” the website reads. “If using cash, please make sure that the cash exchange complies with social distancing regulations.”
Although The Giving Tree has garnered the attention of hundreds of Californians, it has also been used in Lisbon and has even received some requests from people in Africa, according to one of the initiative’s project managers, Sagarika Pannase.
“Users are coming in from all over, but we’re really trying to focus in on California and grow that userbase to make sure our platform is balanced in terms of helpers and users,” Pannase said.
According to product manager Alisha Mawji, one way that The Giving Tree is working on growing its user base is by connecting with local nonprofit organizations that are already taking on similar endeavors.
“We’ve spoken to LA Helping Hands and Oakland At Risk, and now we’re trying to figure out how we can collaborate with these existing organizations to make sure that we aren’t diluting the resources that already exist,” Mawji said.
The project is run by a group of 15 volunteers from various countries around the world who learned about Mai’s idea through his post on Help with COVID, an online forum that has attracted more than 12,400 volunteers to create over 600 projects focused around fighting the COVID-19 pandemic — whether that be through community building, sending medical gear or aiding in prevention.
Annel Amelia Leon ’23, who used Help with COVID to search for ways that college students could make an impact during the pandemic, found Mai’s project within minutes of scrolling through the forum and quickly jumped on board. Leon is currently working on marketing and partnering with student organizations to expand the project’s user base.
“Our organization is unique because it was created by a group of international strangers-turned-teammates in response to COVID-19,” Leon said. “What brought and kept us together is that we are all passionate about this organization and its mission.”