Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stepping Up.”
The message from the Seattle-area Chinese American community is loud and clear — and amplified by the rush of donations to help fight the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
“We are all together, nobody is fighting alone,” said Laura Counsell, who has helped coordinate the donation of tens of thousands of masks and other personal protective equipment with her brother, Fengxi Luan, founder of the Seattle Chinese New Immigrants Center (SCNIC).
The seeds for the center’s effort began when members of the local Chinese American community talked to Luan about how they could help.
“Right now, our country has a shortage in PPE (personal protective equipment, such as masks), so we needed to do something as a Chinese community,” said Luan, who works in the health insurance industry and is also director of the SCNIC. “We want to help our community.”
The Chinese community’s desire to help led to the SCNIC drive for donations that began March 21. The results were immediate, with $41,000 raised in the first 24 hours. That money came from “regular families and not organizations,” Luan said, and was used to purchase PPE from China.
“Actually, we are not that surprised because we know our people,” said Counsell, who grew up in China and moved to the United States in 1998. “The people, they are good. We want to show the world that the people from China who live here, we are Americans. We are human beings and we want to help. Never before is the Chinese community so united. It is a really touching story.”
The donations took off from there, with more than $70,000 being raised. By Wednesday, Counsell said the SCNIC had acquired 65,000 disposable face masks; 1,327 N95 masks; 4,159 KN95 masks; 1,002 face shields; and 102 protective gowns. Most of that has already been dispersed, going to 28 hospitals and clinics, five senior/nursing homes and seven police and fire stations.
The donations will continue as more equipment is on its way from China. In addition to financial donations, which ended last weekend, a lot of the PPE came from individuals’ personal stashes.
“In China, they experienced (coronavirus) in January and February, so they knew how serious it was,” said Counsell. “That is why a lot of people in the community had already gotten packages from China (with PPE). That is what they are donating.”
The efforts come at a time when there are reports of racist attacks against Asian people around the U.S. by those who blame Chinese people for the disease. The first coronavirus case was identified in China in late 2019.
Counsell, a financial adviser who works as a volunteer for SCNIC, and Luan have been able to deliver, thanks to donations big and small, and other local Chinese organizations also are helping in the fight, but on a smaller scale.
“(The recipients) are very thankful to us because they have a very difficult situation with the shortage of PPE,” Luan said. “The hospitals, they need it.”
The biggest donation came from Huiwu Lai, a retired local businessman, who purchased 180 isolation outfits Luan said are worth $8,000.
Counsell tells the story of a donor from Vancouver, B.C., who used to live in Seattle. He donated 9,000 surgical masks, with 6,000 going to Seattle-area hospitals and the other 3,000 to Bellingham, where a doctor said he was fired for criticizing PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center for lack of protective gear for staff.
“Everybody believes we are going to overcome this and they want to give donations so we can solve the problem,” Luan said. “So people are doing their best to support our community. Everybody has contributed to the effort. Even $10 or $20 can change something.”