In March 2020, 16-year-old Thomas “TJ” Kim was training to get his pilot’s license—then the pandemic hit. Hospitals, particularly those in rural parts of his home state of Virginia, were running out of personal protective equipment (PPE). Health-care workers need to wear this gear, which includes masks and face shields, to safely treat Covid-19 patients without becoming sick themselves. That gave TJ the idea to start “Operation SOS,” which stands for Supplies Over the Skies. He decided to use his flight training to deliver PPE to local hospitals in need.
As of May 2021, TJ had flown 24 missions and delivered more than 94,000 pieces of PPE. “I still remember the hospital workers’ gratitude during my first delivery,” says TJ, now 17. “It was the driving force that kept me going.”