It was late February or early March when stay-at-home and shutdown orders began, and it was about that time, too, that four Bay Area students who knew each other from volunteering together connected again.

When she was a freshman in high school, Chloe Duckworth had founded a program at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose, an underfunded facility with a significant unhoused population, in which volunteers visited patients and helped with their care. Another volunteer, Asavari Gowda, filled another void. She found ample supplies were still plenty usable past the date that health regulations dictated they be discarded, and she took them to local food banks to be distributed.

The outset of the novel coronavirus pandemic beckoned for more of that sort of ingenuity. Last spring, Duckworth, Gowda, Quynh Nguyen and Heather Duckworth (Chloe’s sister) founded a nonprofit organization called Hope Hearted, seeking to provide sanitary and health-care supplies to the local unhoused population.

Since March, it has been feared that those without homes would be among the most affected by the pandemic. They are transient, so they move from street to street, vulnerable to infection. Or they live in shelters, where social distancing is difficult. And the ensuing economic recession has caused concerns about exacerbating the homeless crisis.

Hope Hearted assembles basic medical kits, as many as it can, to be distributed to those at food banks and shelters. The kits, which cost $6.50 each, contain a face mask, bandages, a water bottle, hand sanitizer, two bars of soap, tissues and disinfectant wipes.

All of those items have proved useful for people who find themselves struggling to stay healthy.

The organization’s goal is to distribute 5,000 kits by the end of 2020. Through August, Hope Hearted had totaled $4,500 in donations from family and friends, plus gift cards from local grocery stores, to purchase more supplies.

“In terms of scaling [impact], it’s not really sustainable to have this business model where we’re always getting donations from family friends,” Chloe Duckworth said. “We can only reach out to them so often.”

The founders have also contacted companies such as Starbucks to inquire about corporate donations, and others such as Clorox and Purell to ask for in-kind donations. They made their first drop-off at a food bank in Santa Cruz, followed by three others in the Bay Area. Often, they hand out the supplies themselves, unless the shelter prefers to do it to limit traffic.

And soon, there’s plenty more that the four will be able to do when regulations allow for it. The program Gowda began, for instance, stopped in March to limit visitors into the hospital. But that means local hospitals may throw out bandages or gauze pads that are still functional, which Hope Hearted could prevent in normal times.

“One of the big things was being able to work with our local hospitals and clinics again to get those supplies so that they’re not going to waste but are actually being put into these communities that really need it,” Gowda said. “That’s a lot more financially sustainable than always being able to ask people for donations.”

Gowda, Nguyen and Chloe and Heather Duckworth have put in this work outside of school, which is all online this fall. Chloe Duckworth is a sophomore at Southern California, and Nguyen is in her second year at Evergreen Valley College. Gowda and Heather Duckworth are high school seniors.

The pandemic disrupted the four of them as it did anyone else. But they said the opportunity to serve has been a bright spot, and they’ve set their sights on a larger-scale goal.