Local companies jump hurdles to get masks, supplies to Silicon Valley
Volunteers load boxes of masks into volunteers' cars Tuesday May 19 at a parking garage at what once was Vallco Fashion Mall. Photo by Janice Bitters.

Dozens of volunteers gathered this week in a parking garage at what was once Vallco Fashion Mall in Cupertino to pray and pick up more than 1 million face masks already making their way to hundreds of Bay Area organizations.

The scarce personal protective equipment is on its way to 500 nursing homes, homeless shelters, food banks, hospitals and other organizations in the Bay Area battling the impacts of the novel coronavirus. Another 1 million masks is set to arrive in the coming weeks, barring any disruptions on their way from China to the United States.

Those masks weren’t easy to source, said Kenneth Yeung, president of Livermore-based Prince of Peace Enterprises, a wholesale marketing and food supplier. The masks were expensive, the order got canceled by the Chinese government once and delivery was convoluted, routing through five airports before arriving in the Bay Area, he said.

The group partnered with the SHP Foundation, run by developer Sand Hill Property Co. founders Peter and Susanna Pau, to bring the masks to Silicon Valley.

“Even though it’s a lot higher in price, we said, ‘well, we’re talking about saving lives,’” Yeung said.

Those were some of the same challenges local Chinese American groups, primarily from the Bay Area, faced while raising more than $930,000 to purchase protective supplies. Even so, more than 25 groups still sourced hundreds of thousands of masks and other supplies for local hospitals.

But Yeung was especially motivated to lead the initiative because of his own brush with the virus.

His daughter, who works as an occupational therapist at a local hospital, caught the coronavirus — and has since recovered — after not having a mask to wear at work.

“For a 26-year-old young person, she was so sick for three weeks and now she’s careful,” he said. “The hospital realized they need masks… but because of this personal experience, I said we have to do something.”

Already the next 1 million masks has run into at least one roadblock: shipping costs have skyrocketed. Bringing the masks over by air would have cost $220,000, he said. Instead, they’ll arrive by boat.

Now that the first half have arrived, 14 churches and community organizations will take the masks in cars, U-Haul trucks and SUVs to facilities around the region.

The initiative is called “Christian Love in Action,” for the partnership with local faith-based groups. The Paus are also outspoken about their faith, and have been known to host a prayer ahead of groundbreakings for Sand Hill Property Co. projects.

“We’re just a foundation, we can’t follow up with people, but a church can,” said Peter Sung, director for the SHP Foundation. “The church can be a home for people, the church can be healthy relationships for people and so that’s what we’re trying to do, is to connect people with healthy churches.”

Volunteers line up in a parking garage at Vallco Fashion Mall to take boxes of masks that will be delivered across the Bay Area. Photo by Janice Bitters

Jim Gallagher, executive director of Reaching Out, a food pantry based out of San Jose’s Cathedral of Faith church, has a list of more than 50 nursing homes around the Bay Area to drop off masks the organization picked up Tuesday.

Since the virus hit the Bay Area and local health officials issued a regional shelter-in-place order in mid-March, Gallagher has seen demand for meals skyrocket from up to 500 people to about 1,700 families daily. Last month the group fed 18,000 families and gave out $4.8 million in food.

Gallagher gets misty-eyed while talking about the growing need, but also the helpers that have emerged during the pandemic.

“Even in a hard, hard time, we try to make it as good as possible,” he said. “Last week, Chick-Fil-A came out and they gave away a thousand biscuits for breakfast to all the people that were waiting in line. And it’s like, in the worst time of our life, people are stepping up and they’re loving on people.”

Sand Hill is one of many South Bay real estate industry organizations trying to help as the virus spreads and people are forced to stay home — some out of work.

In April, real estate investor Urban Community launched San Jose SHIP Kits, a partnership with Frank-Lin Distillers, Dan Gordon of Gordon Biersch and San Jose to make and distribute hand sanitizer to first responders and others. The kits also include supplies for people who have been negatively affected by the virus, including low-income families and hourly workers.

The Sobrato Family Foundation — a group that consistently ranks among the most philanthropic in terms of local giving — started the Sobrato Rapid Response Fund offering money to more than 50 local groups addressing the pandemic.

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.

The foundation continues to seek PPE supplies, including masks, gloves, gowns and face shields in preparation for a potential surge in patients as restrictions on the stay-at-home order begin to loosen.

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

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