Chinese Americans organize aid for health workers

Across the state, residents are rallying to the aid of health and emergency workers and those feeling financial strain from the coronavirus outbreak.

The region’s Chinese Americans have been in the forefront.

In the past week alone, the Chinese American community in Connecticut has donated 3,400 protective masks to Trumbull emergency workers and Bridgeport Hospital, another 1,000 to Griffin Hospital in Derby, protective gear and cleaning supplies to UConn Health Center and Yale-New Haven Hospital, and more than a half ton of food to the Salvation Army food bank in Ansonia.

“These workers are always protecting us, now we can help protect them,” said Jing “Jack” Jiang of Trumbull, a college professor who was born in China.

Fire Marshal Megan Murphy, who heads the town’s Office of Emergency Management, said the donation would keep the town’s responders protected for more than a month.

“The EMS alone needs 1,000 masks a month,” she said. “We are so thankful for this donation.”

Jiang said the pandemic has hit home to the region’s Chinese Americans, many of whom have family and friends living in China.

“A lot of the supplies are made in China and they had shortages there last month,” he said. Now with the virus receding in China, people are buying the supplies there in bulk and sending them to family and friends in the U.S.

“A family member in New Jersey got 3,400 masks, and I drove down there and brought them back,” he said.

On the drive down, he was reminded of just how much the country has been affected by the virus, he said.

“The Merritt Parkway was empty,” he said. “Even on the bridge, there was no traffic.”

Lin Yang, also of Trumbull, said the Chinese American community was in a unique position to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Yang organized the food drive that resulted in a donation of more than 1,000 pounds of canned soup, meats, fish and pasta.

“We in the Chinese community feel we are being hit for the second time,” she said. “Most of us still have family in China and we know what they are going through there. We helped out there — now the crisis is here. We felt we had to step up again.”

But with the Chinese American community donating masks by the thousand, many people wonder how they are able to get them when hospitals can’t. The answer, according to Jiankan Guo of Cheshire, is simple.

“They don’t know who to ask,” he said. “Their normal suppliers run out, and they don’t know where to go. Or they have a language barrier and can’t communicate with the supplier in China.”

Guo, who works at Yale’s medical school, said production of masks ramped up in China when the virus first struck. The masks are now readily available there, but not necessarily through normal channels.

“Back in the beginning of March, relatives started sending me masks, saying, ‘You’ll need these,’” Guo said.

And two weeks ago, it seemed their predictions were coming true, as Guo began seeing work emails circulating telling employees to stop throwing away their used masks because supplies were very tight. Days later, the situation had not eased, he said.

“I realized there was no solution to the problem,” he said. “Supplies had dried up. They can’t get any.”

So Guo, and others including Lin Young in Greenwich and Adella Lin in Westchester asked local friends to start calling their relatives in China.

“We started asking friends to try and buy masks and send them here,” Guo said. “Even if it’s just 50 or 100, send us what you can.”

And the community responded, Guo said. A Yale University Chinese parents group came through with masks. Lin and a group of friends who work in importing businesses managed to locate 100,000 surgical masks that they distributed to area hospitals and police departments, she said.

“Everyone has to do their part,” she said. “There are more on the way.”

At least one politician has gotten in on the effort, Guo said. State Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia, has criss-crossed the Valley on behalf of donors, dropping off food and protective supplies.

“He’s been the go-to person for people who were able to collect supplies, but couldn’t deliver them,” Guo said. “Anyone with anything to donate, he’ll come to their house and pick it up and deliver it.”

Guo agreed that the effort would continue until U.S. production can catch up.

“I have another 15,000 masks in transit,” he said. “There’s more coming.”