Maia (R) and Alex Shibutani pose at the Cadillac Oscar Week Celebration at Chateau Mountain on Feb. 21, 2019 in Los Angeles.
Giving back is nothing new to 2018 Olympic ice dance bronze medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani. The siblings have traveled the world as Sports Envoys, raised thousands of dollars for charity: water, and are always looking for opportunities to use their platform to help people.
So when the coronavirus pandemic hit and they began sheltering in place — separately — they knew they wanted to be involved.
As the nation’s health care system began to buckle under the strain, the Shibutanis saw their greatest opportunity to help.
“We learned about the PPE shortage crisis, and the lack of personal protective equipment that the health care workers and essential workers are facing,” Alex said. “Given that we are all still unclear for how long this will go on, we felt that making sure that the people who are on the front lines doing so much amazing and incredible, great work to keep everyone else safe, they need to be taken care of.”
Research led them to #GetUsPPE, an organization founded by doctors to help health care workers across the nation. #GetUsPPE unified a personal protective equipment, or PPE, donation base and has partnered with grassroots organizations around the country to supply health care workers with the supplies they need.
The Shibutanis set up a GoFundMe page, each contributed $1,000 and set an initial goal of raising $10,000.
They surpassed that number in just over a day.
“It’s been really heartening to see the response,” Alex said. “This is a global crisis and everyone is experiencing varying levels of hardship right now. The fact that so many people have understood the issue and been generous, and kind of joined our small community that we’ve created in starting the GoFundMe fundraiser, has been really exciting.”
But beyond just the amount of money raised — which has now eclipsed $30,000 — the two hope their efforts can contribute something intangible as well.
“We thought that if we were able to inform ourselves and share with the people that we’re connected to, or that follow us and support us, why the issue is so important, that other people would feel empowered and believe that they can help,” Maia said. “Because I think that, initially, a lot of people’s reaction to the pandemic was to feel very confused and helpless, and those are definitely still feelings that are out there. But I think one of the big points of feedback that we’ve received is, ‘Thank you so much for figuring something out. Now I know how I can help, and I’m happy to contribute.’”
The Shibutanis have each been hands-on throughout the process, connecting with #GetUsPPE on a daily basis and coming up with creative ways to raise awareness about the fundraiser. They filmed a MasterClass parody skit about getting along with siblings during quarantine, conducted Zoom calls with $50 donors and connected with donors on Instagram live.
While the two are thrilled with donations of any size, the #GetUsPPE website also accepts volunteers and donations of PPE, both manufactured and homemade.
“Anyone can step up and find a part of the process that they can be involved in,” Alex said.
The Shibutanis have also found support from overseas, noting an American teacher based in South Korea who had watched them compete at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
“Even though she’s in Korea, she wanted to donate, because she’s worried about people back home and she felt empowered knowing that there was something that she could do that could help others through our fundraiser,” Maia said. “So that was really special to me that that was able to happen.”
The cause as a whole is particularly personal for Maia, who spent time in the hospital in December to have a tumor removed from her kidney.
While she says she and Alex would’ve likely mobilized to help regardless, it hits a little bit closer to home.
“It was just especially touching for me to kind of reflect on that period of time, knowing that I was so vulnerable and needed help,” she said. “When you go to a hospital or an emergency room, in the most likely situation, you’re expecting that a stranger is going to help you. You’re fully trusting your health to a stranger.
“People donating might not know exactly who they’re helping, but we can all be a team that helps the teams of doctors and front-line workers all across the country. And hopefully that ripple effect of just believing in the importance of helping others can lead to something better.”
The Shibutanis know as well as anyone the power of a team and, in the absence of sports during the pandemic, hope sports fans are willing to join theirs
“I think that in the void that is left with there not being sports right now, or the Olympics later this summer, Team USA fans and sports fans around the world understand the concept of working together for something that is greater than yourself,” Alex said. “And I think that is, in essence, what we’re hoping this becomes.”