NEW YORK (PIX11) — As a medical student at Mount Sinai, Michelle Tran had a front-row seat for the worst of the early days of the pandemic in New York City. But like so many other Asian Americans, she began noticing something that was just as scary as the virus itself.

“Certain leaders in the country started to blame China for starting the pandemic,” Tran said. “And that led to people who look like me, people who are Asian American, getting attacked, and blamed for starting this virus that caused so much destruction.”

It wasn’t long before the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes began directly affecting people in Tran’s life. A medical student in the class above her was attacked, as was a colleague in her lab.

“It just made so sad and helpless,” Tran recalled. “Like I couldn’t do anything about it.”

Tran started attending rallies and marches in the city but wanted to do more to help. So, she organized a fundraiser in March of 2021 to raise money for personal safety devices, like alarms, whistles, and pepper spray. And soon after, she co-founded a nonprofit organization called Soar Over Hate.

“We got a lot of support with donations,” Tran said. “We were able to raise over $100,000 that we’ve used to purchase over 24,000 personal safety devices and distribute them in New York City and California.”

In November, Tran was named one of ten women recognized as a 2021 L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth, which recognizes the philanthropic achievements of nonprofit leaders addressing society’s most pressing issues. Soar Over Hate received a $20,000 grant, mentorship from the L’Oréal Paris network, and a national platform to share its story on a special that is now streaming on Peacock.

But she says the work is far from over.

“I encountered several people on the street who didn’t believe what was happening. They saw us giving out these noise-making devices and they came up to us and were like, ‘Is this really happening? I see reports on the news, but I think that is exaggerated.’ And I had to tell them that this is a very real issue.”