‘We’re Americans’: Local Chinese-American community comes together to provide PPE for health care workers

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — “We’re Americans.”

That was Hongyue Wang’s answer when asked why it was important for her, a Chinese immigrant, along with a huge number of Rochester’s Chinese-American community, to help area health care providers.

This tight-knit community group has donated tens of thousands of masks, N95 respirators, and gloves combined.

“It’s just the members of this community, and no organization,” Wang said.

Wang came to the US originally in 1998 to get her PhD at University of Rochester. Now she works there in biostatistics research. She’s originally from the northeastern part of China, north of Beijing. She’s been in America longer than China.

That knowledge, her experience at URMC, and her own heritage, spurred her — and her community — to action.

“It started back in March, when the pandemic first started to appear in the US,” Wang said. “Most people in our community have witnessed what happens in Asia. Most have family connections there. We expected that PPE, and those supplies would be in shortage, because that’s what happened in China.”

She forged a connection with URMC’s supply department. She got an answer right away, saying they needed masks, and she quickly turned to social media to spread the word in the Chinese-American groups.

“Many people responded immediately, and donated what they had at home,” she said. Group members also gave extra boxes from churches and restaurants. “Thousands of them.”

They made their first donation of over 17,000 masks soon after in March.

Realizing their strength, they turned to fundraising, looking to gain some buying power, in addition to their donations. After some staff members of the Chinese School of Rochester started volunteering, they were able to help with the finances.

Then, they were ready to buy.

“I was mainly responsible for sourcing the face masks and supplies,” Wang said. “Even have people from other states, and nationwide, the Chinese-American community has come together. We exchange information about manufacturers.”

Through this information exchange, they can better determine what doctors and nurses need. Most members of this tight-knit group aren’t in medicine.

In April, they donated to RGH, nursing homes, and volunteer ambulances.

On culture

“We’re Americans, and we keep our community safe, and it was devastating enough for us to see what happened in Asia,” she said, first and foremost. “We don’t want to see our doctors to be exposed, or be at risk. They need to work but be fully protected.”

As she eluded to before, most people in her community have either experienced an epidemic themselves or through relatives. Wang says that this knowledge on how to combat a pandemic in her community is strong and ingrained, they’ve known what to do has known what to do for so long.

“That’s one of my motivations for doing this,” she said. “I feel frustrated watching things happen so slowly here, when we already new what was going to happen. I needed to work on something to keep myself busy, and feel like I can help.”

Wang, who is also a mother of two teenagers born in the US, says no one she knows has suffered any targeted acts of racism, despite the reports they hear everyday. However:

“Chinese community people know that masks can provide some protection,” she said. “When we go out there with masks, you have that pressure, and fear about how people think of you.”

“It’s a complicated time,” she said. “Most people try to avoid going out there, especially alone. Parents definitely warn kids not go out by themselves.”

Going forward

“We have most of the original funds spent on supplies,” she said. “We’re continuing to provide meals to ICU nurses while looking for supplies.”

Wang says that most of this PPE that they’re buying is from China. While it is difficult — she especially mentioned that the packages going through two sets of customs is time-consuming, and needing to screen hundreds of vendors, and work with international regulations — they do have one advantage over other buyers.

“We have the same language, we can communicate with vendors and manufacturers in China,” she said.

While she has some improvement and less need for healthcare workers in our area, she says the community will spring into action if need be.

This week, they have shipments of surgical masks, and N95 masks coming in.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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