Written by Shu Li Lo, Monique Kuo, and Audrey Cheng
Translated by Yao-yang Tang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
The COVID-19 virus has caused an unprecedented global pandemic. Everyone is suffering as no one in the world is spared the threat of infection. Many people are under lockdowns or other restrictions. Some are under self-quarantine at home. Moreover, everyone must respect an order to keep a safe social distance, and recommendation to wear face coverings in public.
In cities across the United States, the streets have become empty. As human traffic goes, so too do merchants’ revenues. Stores, factories, and schools are closed. When people finally realize that face masks help stave off infections, face masks begin to fly off the shelves. Masks have now become so precious and scarce that even money can’t buy them in many cases.
When attempting to purchase face masks online, responses such as “sold out” or “delayed deliveries” often follow. Deprived of masks, many people under lockdowns dare not step out of their homes to enjoy the sun, however bright it may be shining. The dark shadow of the novel coronavirus has erased everyday salutations such as “Have you eaten?” – replacing them with “Have you got some face masks?”
When the pandemic was raging in mainland China, Tzu Chi volunteers in the United States purchased personal protective equipment (PPE) and sent it to China. Now the pandemic is hitting the States hard, and volunteers have jumped through unimaginably difficult hoops to purchase PPEs in China and send them to the United States.
The Dark Clouds Lifted as the Face Masks Arrived
Tzu Chi volunteers and kind-hearted people in China, Taiwan, and the United States helped to procure PPE, which finally reached American soil in a series of separate massive shipments. Volunteers and Tzu Chi Medical Foundation staffers inventoried the arriving supplies, packaged the goods, and shipped them to the intended recipients. It has been a momentous undertaking, considering the magnitude of the tasks and the required attention to minute details.
To speed up delivery, individuals may also go to the Tzu Chi Medical Center in Alhambra, California, to pick up PPE. On April 17, 2020, five organizations and one individual received PPE from this community clinic. Bessie Nhan works there, and on top of her regular tasks, taking care of accounts receivable, she has been repackaging the PPE and coordinating its donation to those who need it. Her workload has essentially doubled.
Henry Nhan, Bessie’s husband, and his friend Lam Li, both volunteered to help Bessie repackage and deliver the PPE, instantly and greatly expanding the clinic’s capacity to dispense the supplies to those who need them. Thanks to their assistance, Bessie is now better able to focus her attention on helping the uninsured patients coming to the clinic for treatment.
Recipients Express That They Can’t Thank Tzu Chi Enough
Inside Tzu Chi Medical Center, volunteers have neatly displayed the PPE available for the community so people can see it as they arrive. And, many have come, including Gary Chua of Allied Pacific IPA, Michael Sullivan of UCLA Health’s Orthopaedic Institute for Children, Libby Page of the Pacifica Hospital of the Valley, Manuel Alberty of Clinica Medica Hispana Medical Corporation, Teri Woo of Green Pine Home Healthcare Services, and Mindy Yao.
They were able to pick up urgently needed PPE for their healthcare organizations, and even themselves. Whether they came to the clinic, or Tzu Chi volunteers showed up at their organizations to offer it, after receiving the PPE, many expressed that they can’t thank Tzu Chi enough. Previously overcome with worry about where to procure the vital supplies, they were relieved that they could now better protect their physicians and nursing staff from infection.
Manuel Alberty is the CFO of Clinica Medica Hispana Medical Corporation. His daughter, who works at Tzu Chi Medical Center, helped arrange his visit to the clinic for the pickup of PPE. Upon arrival, he pointed out that face masks are in extremely short supply in California, while under the threat of COVID-19, hospitals must protect their staff.
The surgical masks and KN95 masks would be a great help at Clinica Medica Hispana Medical Corporation. Alberty shared that they had searched online, hoping to purchase medical masks but found no suppliers who could make quick deliveries. The PPE from Tzu Chi had come just in the nick of time.
As Alberty expressed his thanks, Dr. William Keh, CEO of Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, and his wife Mary Keh shared the story of Tzu Chi’s bamboo banks and their role in the charity’s growth, encouraging daily giving to benefit those in need. Alberty was touched and donated $300 towards Tzu Chi’s aid missions.
Michael Sullivan, VP and Chief Philanthropy Officer at Orthopaedic Institute for Children, described how badly his organization needed PPE. He thanked Tzu Chi for offering this critical supply, noting that in its absence, sometimes the institute’s doctors and nurses still had to operate on sick children.
As he accepted the medical supplies, Sullivan struggled to find the right words to capture the depth of gratitude that the institute’s staff, patients, and their families would feel for the masks. Knowing that the organization’s need for PPE could continue, he was relieved when volunteers promised more in the future.
Mindy Yao was the last to collect PPE from Tzu Chi Medical Center that day. Still wearing a nursing gown, she reached the clinic at 5:00 PM. Yao explained emotionally that she and her sister are nurses, yet the senior home where they work doesn’t provide masks for employees, so staff must find and use their own.
When Yao comes across coughing patients at the senior center, she also shares her supply with them. Still, arriving at the Tzu Chi clinic, Yao merely asked for one box of 50 masks. Volunteer Zhao Xiu-fang gave her two, hoping to spare Yao the trouble of having to come back too soon to get more since she could use the time saved to care for her elderly patients.
Tzu Chi Medical Foundation Aims to Meet Demand as Fast as it Can
William Keh pointed out that Tzu Chi USA has charged Tzu Chi Medical Foundation with the responsibility of PPE procurement. The foundation has purchased quite a lot of PPE, and distributed it to over 100 healthcare facilities so far, with close to 200 more institutions to go.
Since relevant laws and policies in China, from where many of the supplies are coming, are strict, customs is still processing a lot of the PPE Tzu Chi acquired. Keh hopes that these supplies will clear within a week so volunteers can then distribute them to frontline healthcare workers.
Overall, Keh is thankful for the efforts of everyone involved in getting the PPE out to the frontlines of COVID-19.
When asked where the PPE had come from, Keh explained, “We purchased some on the open market. Many loving people in our community have donated money to us, and they have also given us all the KN95 masks that they have at their homes so that we may distribute them to medical facilities. We’re grateful to them for their confidence in Tzu Chi. We hope to deliver their love to medical facilities so that medical workers may focus on patient care.”
Let’s add our love to Tzu Chi Medical Foundation’s tireless efforts to support healthcare workers during the pandemic. Each medical mask counts when you’re on the frontlines of COVID-19, bravely treating those fighting for their lives, battling fatigue, and fearing for your own family’s safety upon your return home.