New York teen brings together team to produce PPE for NYPD and MTA

Krishna Koka with bags of PPE ready for distribution. (Photos courtesy of Krishna Koka)

Like many college students, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down schools and businesses, 18-year-old Krishna Koka found himself back in his hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York after starting off his first year at the University of Michigan. As the son of a healthcare worker, Koka could see first-hand how hard it was to have PPE for essential workers.

“The lack of PPE is a ridiculously huge problem,” said Koka. “I wanted to try and make a change.”

Koka began to put the idea of PPE4NYC into action. For many companies that are creating more PPE, 3D printing has become a popular method to help supplement the PPE supply. Koka had been building 3D printers in his basement since he was in 10th grade, and was using those printers to print prosthesis for E-Nable.

“The process acquainted me with printing medical equipment. I can produce a medical device that is on par with what’s in medical institutions,” said Koka. “I had left the printers behind when I went to college, but now that I’m home it seemed crazy not to use them.”

Koka then went to Facebook to find out what he could do to help during the pandemic. After finding information from a number of Facebook communities, Koka put plans into motion to get an organization together that tackled not just getting PPE for healthcare workers, but also for other essential employees that are at risk of contracting COVID-19.

In a matter of weeks, Koka was able to enlist enough help to launch PPE4NYC’s website and found a place to set up shop for manufacturing at Red Maple Vineyard, a popular upstate wedding venue. Koka says that PPE4NYC aims to connect individuals to injection molding companies, mass manufacturers, 3D printers, people with sewing machines, and regular folks to help bring together PPE.

“These hospitals run through thousands of PPE a day,” said Koka. “It takes an hour to print one piece of PPE. It’s not sustainable. That’s where mass manufacturing comes in. The supply chain is broken, all that’s left is us.”

Since its inception, PPE4NYC has made connections with the MTA and NYPD – so far, PPE4NYC has produced 170 face shields for the NYPD’s Precinct 1, and have more plans to supply to MTA workers.

“I wanted to tackle the issue of essential workers that aren’t in healthcare,” said Koka. “In the process of trying to lower ER visits, overflow, it’s important to tackle what happens outside the hospital.”

PPE4NYC relies on a team of “rag-tag” teenage volunteers (and even some volunteers from Red Maple Vineyard!), many of whom find themselves out of school since the shutdown. All money that they raise through their website goes directly into the materials it takes to 3D print PPE.

“The outpouring of support that we’ve gotten has been incredible,” said Koka. “Our volunteers, many of whom are high school and college students who find themselves at home, have been the greatest asset to the people who have organized this and founded this. Some things just can’t be bought – the time and love that we’re getting from the community has been amazing.”

Even still, Koka hopes that someday soon PPE4NYC won’t need to exist.

This was never supposed to happen,” said Koka. “In a perfect world, PPE4NYC won’t need to exist.”

For more information, visit ppe4nyc.org.