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Sarasota Tuesday, Apr. 7, 2020 2 years ago

Friends arrange shipment of 10,000 masks from China

Donations being spread among local hospitals, clinics .
by: Klint Lowry Arts + Entertainment Editor

A group of four people arrived at Sarasota Memorial Hospital last week all wearing gloves and protective masks.

They drove past the emergency entrance, because none of them was sick. Instead, they rounded a corner and pulled up to the hospital receiving bay, where SMH Supply Chain Management Executive Director Robert Milano was there to greet them and personally accept their gift. They were expected, and with great anticipation.

They’d brought with them 2,000 high-quality respirator masks to donate to the hospital. Similar scenes have been playing out at hospitals throughout the area, and there are still a few more to go. In all, they will donate 10,000 masks before they are done. As always, they made the stop without fanfare.

After the fact, SMH CEO David Verinder expressed his appreciation in a written statement.

“The donations of these highly protective respirator and surgical masks are a critical gift that will help keep our nurses, physicians and clinicians on the front lines safe as we prepare for the predicted surge of patients in the days and weeks ahead,” Verinder wrote.

The people who made the donation did not hear the words of appreciation directly. They don’t need to. They are doing it because they know it is the right thing to do, but they are not so sure they want attention drawn to themselves.

“It's just a group of Chinese foodies that saw that they were in a position to help and decided to do it,” said Joshua Sinclair, speaking on behalf of the group.

They are not a club, Sinclair added, they aren’t an organization with officers or even a name. Their main connection, really, is they are all Chinese, and they mostly like to get together and talk about things like recipes and where the best places are to get the ingredients for Asian cooking.

They are a close-knit group of 39 families, Sinclair said, and when the COVID-19 crisis began in their native country, it began to dominate their conversations. Word of the initial outbreak in Wuhan had spread among them long before American media paid much attention to the story.

“When the epidemic started, all the local Chinese here banded together to help the people in China,” Sinclair said. The effort was as grassroots as it gets.

“Most any time, most Chinese people tend to mind their own business, keep to themselves and not make a fuss about anything,” he said. "But when there's a truly urgent matter, they'll often pull together very quickly without much planning or setting up. They just pull together and get it done.”

But even as the group began sending needed supplies to China, the narrative of the COVID-19 virus’s spread began to shift. After a rapid initial explosion, China was able to tamp down the spread there. Meanwhile, America was becoming the fastest growing hotspot.

They decided instead of sending supplies to China, they would see to acquiring supplies from China and getting them shipped here.

One couple got the ball rolling in a big way and put $10,000 into the cause. All told, they raised $30,000 among themselves, enough to get 10,000 masks.

These masks are “a few steps above the N95 standard,” Sinclair said. “These are the ones we want medical professionals to have while they are working with this sickness.”

They masks are not easy to obtain, Sinclair said, there are a lot of restrictions as to who can buy them and how many they can buy. But “some people here have some friends and family in China who are very well connected and they were able to arrange for the purchase to take place.”

That’s one of the reasons they are keeping a low profile. The other is because they are aware and worried about anti-Chinese sentiment being fomented as the crisis goes on.

Which is why they decided to have an article done about what they are doing. Knowing they are doing the right thing could be enough, but they hope people will see this as the gesture of goodwill and friendship it is meant to be.

The place you grew up will always be home in one sense, Sinclair said. You always feel a connection to it. And most of them have family and friends back in China, so they will always be concerned about what is happening there.

But it is just as true that this is home now. They have chosen this place to make lives for themselves, and they’ve been doing so for years, some for many years.

They are as affected as anyone by the hardships going on today, Sinclair said, “but we just want to make sure that this is taken care of, we'll do what we can.”

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