Person of the Week
Megan Leubner: Crisis Hero Award Winner
Megan Leubner, a recent award recipient for her volunteer efforts helping the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, will graduate from Quinnipiac University in 2023 with an M.D. degree. (Photo courtesy of Megan Leubner)
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of businesses and schools, most people could shelter-in-place in the comfort of their own homes. The folks in homeless shelters, however, did not have such luxury. One local shelter, Columbus House in New Haven, had little choice but to remove its residents from the close quarters of its facility and place them in available apartments.
While the relocated homeless were now physically safer from COVID, a new set of challenges appeared: They had no essential household items needed to survive in isolation.
When Megan Leubner—a third-year medical student at Quinnipiac University’s Frank H. Netter M.D. School of Medicine in North Haven—learned about this dilemma at Columbus House and expressed her concern, she was asked by those involved if she wanted to take charge and organize a goods drive.
She loved the idea and set about finding a dozen fellow students willing to help.
“I recruited 10 other volunteers to help me organize,” she explains.
Megan and her team posted their call for needed items on social media, through email, and by flyers. The response was overwhelming. During a time when store shelves were being emptied and people of means were in desperate search of toilet paper, Megan ended up with so many donated items—more than 6,400 in total—her tiny apartment was soon chock full, and a proper storage location was secured.
“We got a huge response, which was really touching,” Megan says. “And it ended up being great because the social workers from Columbus House came to us to shop for the clients and do door drops for the residents.”
Those collected items, gathered from individual donors, included “cleaning supplies, housewares such as pans, cookware, laundry detergent, baskets, sheets, blankets, plates and bowls and silverware,” Megan says, in addition to underwear, socks, lots of gently used furniture, toiletries, and finally canned goods.
“For me, it was a healthy dose of humanism, during a time when everyone was feeling disconnected,” Megan says in reflection. “You’d turn on the news and hear that someone hoarding hand sanitizer was selling it at a surcharge.”
When it came to collecting all the donations, Megan says, “It was a real challenge because they needed people to be boots-on-the-ground more than ever, in a time where you couldn’t work around it with technology, like in a lot of other fields.”
Initially, Megan was urged by many to remain isolated herself and protect against catching COVID. Her intense desire to help others won out over any concerns.
“We just did it anyway,” she says of all the volunteers involved serving the Columbus House residents during the goods drive.
The dozen volunteers did all the legwork of picking up donations left on contributors’ doorsteps and bringing those goods to the storage facility. Others counted and sorted the items. Columbus House social workers then went to the donation center to shop for their clients.
The drive was so successful, Megan says, “One of my classmates replicated what we did for Columbus House, and he started a similar initiative in Rhode Island, and it worked really well.”
In recognition of Megan’s leadership, she received the Crisis Hero Award from the Connecticut Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals earlier this month.
In 2023, Megan will depart Quinnipiac with an M.D. degree. After that, she says, “I would like to work in homeless medicine in my career,” and she hopes her specialization will be in the OB/GYN area.
“There is a dearth of services for folks experiencing homelessness in terms of sexual health and substance abuse disorders when they are pregnant,” Megan says. “Things nobody really wants to deal with because it’s really complicated and sad and difficult. I would like to address that. I think there is a lot of frustration that exists within standard [medicine]. To get an appointment with a doctor requires a lot of organization, and the homeless don’t have the luxury of their health being a number-one priority when day-to-day they are wondering where they are going to sleep that night.”
While providing medical health to the homeless at a structured shelter, like Columbus House, gives direct access to patients in need, providing that same level of service to street-level homeless people becomes more challenging, according to Megan.
“That’s probably the number one thing I’d like to do,” serving the homeless living outside of shelters, Megan says.
When it comes to her desire to provide complimentary medical services to the homeless, Megan’s biggest inspiration is local man Philip Costello, clinical director of Homeless Care at Cornell Scott-Hill in New Haven.
“He’s an APRN who has a small team of providers who have specific training in OB/GYN because they know this is a real need among the homeless population,” Megan says. “I worked with Phil as a volunteer doing street medicine, going to the locations near the homeless, and talking to the patients. It works pretty well. I would travel the world with him.”
As Megan got to know many of the homeless people she served, a level of trust developed.
“When they are going to a clinic, there is a loss to follow-up, but with the street medicine teams, the homeless will show up each week,” she says.
Once Megan completes the M.D. degree, she will need to serve a residency, and then obtain a medical license, which will take four more years. It’s the final leg of a journey she’s excited to be on as she grows in her knowledge and experience to continue her mission to help the most under-served citizens in our nation.
Despite Megan’s exuberance for studying medicine and helping others, the Tolland native still makes time to rock climb, hike, and kayak, in addition to following her artistic pursuits.
“I really like to paint,” she says of capturing landscapes in acrylics.
As a member of MakerSpace in Downtown New Haven, Megan also dabbles in woodworking with her boyfriend, Kyle.
“We each made our own standing desk during COVID,” she says.
Megan also loves pop art and collecting vintage national park posters from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) era—”My goal is to go to every single national park and get a poster, and then one day have a gallery wall.”