Chinese Americans leverage ties abroad to bring PPE to Silicon Valley
Chinese American community members in Fremont donate supplies to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Fremont. Photo courtesy of Fremont Chinese Community members

Catherine Zhang has lived in the United States 27 years, but 2020 marked the first time the longtime Santa Clara resident got a care package from her relatives in China.

Inside were 100 face masks to help protect her as the novel coronavirus infiltrated and spread across the Bay Area. Zhang gave some of the masks out to friends. When she heard about the shortage of supplies for frontline workers, she took the rest to a local hospital and started to think of ways to get more of the hard-to-find personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Zhang is quick to point out, however, that she is just one of many Chinese Americans in the region who have raised money and leveraged their relationships on the other side of the world to bring caches of much-needed supplies to their local communities.

“I just feel like through this crisis, the whole (Chinese) community (is doing) a lot of good things … for the whole community,” Zhang said.

Indeed, dozens of group leaders spoke to San José Spotlight last month — at times tearfully — about their efforts to help people and hospitals in the region. As of last month, more than 25 Chinese American groups had collectively fundraised more than $930,000 to purchase such supplies.

The groups, which are primarily located in the Bay Area, include more than 20,000 members and had acquired and distributed more than 365,000 masks, including many coveted N95 masks. The groups had also gathered about 28,000 sets of gloves, more than 12,000 goggles and shields, gallons of disinfectant and thousands of protective suits, according to data provided by the groups.

Those donations started from grassroots plans made through running clubs, church groups, local chapters of college alumni networks or WeChat discussions between parents whose children attend local schools.

Face Shield donations from Chinese American families at the Harker School. The 103 members of the Harker School group have donated thousands of masks as well as gloves and disinfectant to local Kaiser hospitals. Photo courtesy of the Chinese American Harker School group

Shipments of supplies coming from family and friends in China are often relatively small, because the Chinese government has limited the amount of supplies individuals can purchase at a time. Masks, for instance, are limited to about 100 per person, Zhang said. But those small shipments add up, she added.

“That’s the reason why I say we are just like ants,” she said. “We move piece by piece, just like ants move.”

Much of the supplies gathered went to hospitals and first responders in Silicon Valley the data show. Some of the equipment went to the broader Bay Area, Southern California and to other needy states, like New York.

Those donations come as officials across Santa Clara County and the state, have asked for contributions large and small.

The Valley Medical Center Foundation is seeking any amount of unused personal protective equipment, including isolation gowns, respirator masks, nitrile gloves, hand sanitizer and face masks.

In April, Santa Clara County officials ordered residents and businesses to report caches of PPE at home or in storage and the state launched a website to allow residents and companies to donate any unused supplies to frontline workers across California.

“Getting this awareness will help us know what supply we can source here locally so we are not as reliant on scarce state and federal supplies,” Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said last month as county officials urged residents to report their inventory.

Many in Silicon Valley have stepped up.

Residents have been busy making face masks for frontline workers at home while a fund, set up by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, has received nearly $8 million in donations from companies and individuals for the Valley Medical Center Foundation to distribute to Santa Clara County hospitals.

Tech giants across Silicon Valley have also jumped in, many making financial donations and digging out N95 masks that have sat in storage since the 2018 Camp Fire caused hazardous smoke to permeate the entire Bay Area. Google donated 49,000 face shields designed by teams at the Mountain View-based company.

But Silicon Valley’s Chinese Americans’ collective fundraising and contributions rival some of the largest contributions in the region by local tech giants. The groups have made a sizable contribution by using their individual overseas connections to help bridge a supply shortage that is being felt throughout the country.

Andrew Cope, president of the El Camino Health Foundation poses with PPE donated by the Tianmu Education Foundation, a Saratoga-based nonprofit. Photo courtesy of Tianmu Education Foundation

The efforts come as Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans are facing racism over the virus, which started in China and has since made its way around the world.

The Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council and San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies department in March launched the “Stop AAPI Hate” reporting center, that allows Asian Americans to self-report discrimination.

As of May 13, the reporting center had received more than 1,700 reports of coronavirus-related discrimination across the country.

“What concerns me is the open hostility and animus that our community is encountering and with concerted efforts to blame China and the Chinese government, Asian Americans will be subjected to more hate,” Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, said in a statement this week. “This new wave of racism is a reminder of our conditional status and the need to challenge racism and inequality that has been exposed as a result of this pandemic.”

Personal protective equipment compiled by Chinese Americans Charity Without Borders. Photo courtesy of Chinese Americans Charity Without Borders

But the groups of Chinese Americans who have stepped up in the South Bay didn’t dwell on those acts during an interview with this news organization.

Instead, some told stories about trying to source thousands of masks in one night after receiving a call about a shortage at a local emergency room in Santa Clara County. Others outlined the logistics involved in volunteering their homes to be drop-off stations for supplies. Chinese American parents of students at The Harker School, a San Jose preparatory school, talked about banding together across grade levels to ship boxes of PPE to local Kaiser hospitals.

“We are the Chinese community, and it doesn’t matter whether we are in the U.S., or we are in China, we want to help the community,” Jessie Li, a community member who has been part of the fundraising efforts in Silicon Valley, said. “We are part of community and we care about people.”

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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