Culture / Newsy

20-Year-Old Houstonian Starts a Nonprofit to Show Essential Workers Some L.O.V.E.

Finding a Way to Make a Difference in Trying Times

BY // 07.17.20

Houston native Gia McCrae spent “quarantine” starting her first nonprofit organization, The L.O.V.E. Project (Lifting Our Valuable Essentials). The 20-year-old is an Episcopal High School alumna and a junior at Spelman College with a strong passion for serving others.

McCrae’s giving spirit developed at a very young age. When she was 4 years old, she and her mother joined Jack and Jill of America, Inc., an organization dedicated to nurturing future African-American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving and civic duty.

Her devotion to helping others blossomed while living overseas in Singapore. Traveling throughout Southeast Asia, she experienced first-hand not only the differences in how people live around the world, but also how much many people need.

As McCrae finished her spring semester at Spelman online at home during the life-changing coronavirus pandemic, she realized how many people have been affected globally. She thought about how she could help others during COVID-19. She knows a number of essential workers personally and wanted to help those close to her and the community.

“Amidst it all, our health care providers, law enforcement, waste management, delivery handlers, and other essential employees are working tirelessly to maintain a sense of normalcy in our lives and to keep us all healthy and safe,” McCrae says. “Now is the time to come together and lift these essential workers with thanks and love.”

Behind the Scenes of The L.O.V.E Project

McCrae created The L.O.V.E. Project’s website and, with the help of her mother, made customized merchandise (T-shirts and bracelets) and handcrafted care packages for essential workers. McCrae’s gifts for essential workers would not be possible without the generosity of donations from around the world.


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The L.O.V.E. Project’s website features a donation section, where anyone can make a monetary donation. There’s also a section on the website for people to submit letters of appreciation.

Concerned for essential workers’ health during COVID-19, McCrae’s first priority was sanitization. She wears gloves and a mask while making each goodie basket for critical workers.

Care Packages

Initially, McCrae filled her thank-you baskets with freshly made cookies from a local bakery, brochures about The L.O.V.E. Project, and personal letters. 

Gia’s McCrae’s care package includes cookies from a local bakery, custom brochures, and stickers
Gia McCrae’s care package includes cookies from a local bakery, custom brochures, and stickers.

With recent donations, McCrae has been able to do other acts of appreciation, such as bringing coffee, lunch, or dinner to essential workers. 

Initiatives for Essential Workers

When McCrae surprises essential workers, she introduces herself as the founder of The L.O.V.E. Project and talks about the organization’s mission. Then she expresses her gratitude and appreciation for the health care worker’s efforts during the pandemic. Before handing them any treats, she assures them that everything has been sanitized. 

For her first initiative, she wanted to give back to her own neighborhood. McCrae visited the Pearland Station 5 Firefighters. Surprised and overwhelmed, the firefighters were beyond thankful for her thoughtful gifts and recognition.

Gia McCrae with Pearland Station 5 Firefighters
Gia McCrae with Pearland Station 5 firefighters

McCrae’s other great initiatives thus far have gone to Bank of America Pearland Branch; Houston Federal Credit Union; Houston Methodist; Sugar Land Medical Spa; Kelsey-Seybold Clinic; Wells Fargo Sugarloaf Branch; Camille G. Cash, M.D.; Decatur GA Children’s Medical Group; and Houston Ascent Emergency Center. 

We talk to McCrae to learn more:

PaperCity: What steps did you take to create The L.O.V.E. Project?

Gia McCrae: When I first came up with the idea for the nonprofit, I didn’t realize there would be so much work involved. For example, I had to go through the proper legal channels to make it an official 501 (c)(3) — that was a bit of a learning experience for me. Then I established a website and social media pages for the organization and used my main social media accounts to help spread the word.  

Once I started to receive donations, I kept records in an Excel document to stay organized and to see how much money I can put towards each initiative.

The donations solely go to helping with the initiatives, whether it’s doing random acts of kindness, personal protective equipment, cookie baskets, or getting lunch/breakfast for somebody. I create a budget for the donations I receive and allocate funds for each initiative.

Gia McCrae’s custom made basket and bracelets
Gia McCrae’s custom-made basket and bracelets

After I get a donation, I write a personal thank you note to the donor, just letting them know how much I appreciate them. For the cookie baskets, I include handwritten notes for whomever I’m giving the basket to. 

I also add our L.O.V.E. Project brochure, which lets people know what we do for this nonprofit. I also say, ‘If you need anything else, let me know, and I can see what I can do to help during this stressful time.’

PC: What makes The L.O.V.E. Project unique?

GM: I think what’s great and unique about The L.O.V.E. Project is the heart behind it. It’s a personal thank you from someone in the community to another person in the community. I founded this nonprofit because I believe that, more than ever, these essential workers need to be shown gratitude and celebrated for all they’re doing throughout this pandemic. I think having someone my age show gratitude with one-on-one and face-to-face encounters pleasantly surprises them.

Gia with Physical Therapist Jessica Evans
Gia McCrae with physical therapist Jessica Evans

PC: Who makes all the custom monogram merch for The L.O.V.E. Project?

GM: I personally designed the logo, but my mother made all of my merchandise. My mom has her own custom gift business [Monie Maker], so she made the merchandise — for free! All the supplies and stuff that I wear, business cards that I give out. . . those are all out-of-pocket expenses for me. 

PC: Has attending Spelman College affected the way you serve others?

GM: Absolutely. At Spelman, our motto is “A Choice to Change the World,” so we’re expected to serve our community. Throughout my life, there has never been a moment that I did not want to give back to my community, because of the influences I’ve had around me.

I think I have always been in a position in life where I know how blessed I am and that it’s my obligation to give back to others.

PC: Is there a special initiative that really moved you?

GM: My favorite initiative thus far was with Houston Methodist. I delivered a basket to senior operations manager Stephanie Houston and her team in the neurology department. 

Gia McCrae at Houston Methodist giving Stephanie Houston hand-crafted care package
Gia McCrae at Houston Methodist, presenting Stephanie Houston with a handcrafted care package

I gave cookies to a lot of the essential workers there, and it’s a big unit. There are about 60 people working there. The employees mentioned how it was so nice to be recognized. You think that hospitals get recognized all the time. Most of them do, but to have that tangible act done for them made them feel appreciated.

PC: Has showing appreciation towards essential workers during COVID-19 helped you realize how serious this world pandemic is?

GM: Yes, in many aspects. Because I have done initiatives for a variety of essential workers, like first responders, health professionals, and others in the service industry, I have been able to see the impact of that COVID-19 has had on our community. 

When I did an initiative for the Houston Federal Credit Union, they only let three people in at a time. When I went inside, I had to get my temperature taken and could not stay for long. 

For my initiative at Houston Methodist, I was not allowed to go inside because of how serious COVID-19 is. On another hospital visit I did, one of the nurses came outside to talk to me and told me that some women’s hospitals do not allow their spouses to come for the ultrasound.

This was heartbreaking to me, because that is such an intimate moment for parents. A father not getting to get to hear his baby’s heartbeat for the first time must be hard. Little precious moments like that you would never think would be affected due to COVID-19. 

Even at the Bank of America in Pearland, there was a person I have worked with for many years who I was going to give cookies to, but when I got there, I found out that he was no longer there.

The bank manager told me that the person I had been working with had underlying health conditions, so he had to go home and was not working anymore with the Pearland branch.

It has definitely been a learning curve. I think seeing all these essential workers has made me realize how impactful this pandemic is. Essential workers have no choice but to come into work every day while others have the liberty of staying home.

PC: I see you have a regional rep for The L.O.V.E. Project in Atlanta. Have you thought about expanding it more around the world? 

GM: Yes, I would love to expand globally. I lived overseas for five years and have friends/contacts that I would like to help me expand The L.O.V.E. Project on a global level. For now, I’m focused on Houston, which is home, and Atlanta, where I attend college. Sydney Taylor is The L.O.V.E. Project’s regional rep in Georgia.

I really want to help as many people as I can and hope to expand and assign regional positions in other cities. 

Gia brings essential workers lunch at Camille G. Cash. M.D.
Gia McCrae brings lunch to Camille G. Cash, M.D.

There are so many ways that we can give back and people can help this nonprofit grow.

PC: Is there anything exciting or new coming up for The L.O.V.E. Project?

GM: I’m currently in contact with Representative Shawn Thierry of District 146. I’m working with her because she has been really impactful with COVID-19 testing drives and mask distribution, so I want to do something nice for her.  I’m hoping we could do a collaboration project together, whether it’s with a COVID-19 testing site or a mask donation.

Also, there’s a form on our website that allows people to submit their recommendations of people and places they would like us to recognize in Houston. 

PC: What can our readers do to help The L.O.V.E. Project?

Gia with Ascent Emergency Medical Center team
Gia McCrae with the Ascent Emergency Medical Center team

GM: To support The L.O.V.E. Project, people could write letters saying things like “We are so helpful for you and appreciate you.”

In general, you could donate personal protective equipment, if you have any extra masks or gloves. And, of course, all monetary donations are extremely helpful in continuing with our initiatives for Lifting Our Valuable Essentials.

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