DFW Care and Dr. Fuqin Liu (second from right) delivers PPE. (Courtesy: Fuqin Liu)

Coronavirus

The Most Organized Group of COVID-19 Volunteers You Have Ever Seen

How a loosely connected group of volunteers came to source PPE and donate it to hospitals.

As COVID-19 closes its grip around the United States, some residents have had to live through the crisis twice. The Chinese-American community felt the weighty impact of the health disaster and ensuing economic downturn earlier this year as friends and relatives dealt with the crisis in China. When it arrived in full force in the United States, they were forced to live it again. In the face of some Americans blaming the Chinese for the effects of COVID-19, with numerous examples around the country of increased racism and hatred toward Asian Americans, this group sprang to action.

What started as a WeChat message amongst friends discussing ways to serve the healthcare community quickly gained 500 members. “We are hyper vigilant about the dangers of this virus and we have friends in the hospitals and healthcare system,” says Dr. Fuqin Liu, the Texas Woman’s University associate professor of nursing who started the discussion.

Though most official channels didn’t say so, the community was hearing from healthcare workers about the shortage of personal protective equipment, which is being rationed even here in Dallas. In just a few days, the group formed DFW CARE (Chinese American Relief for Epidemic) and in a little over a week the group has raised more than $100,000 and purchased 33,000 pairs of gloves, 40,000 masks, and 1,000 face shields that are being donated UT Southwestern, Parkland, the VA, and more.

The group knew that it wouldn’t have the funds to be able to adequately supply a hospital’s massive needs, so they found an innovative way to help. The group decided to buy batches of protective equipment from local sources and Chinese manufacturers, send them to the hospitals to make sure they were acceptable, and provide information to the hospitals about how they could get more.

In essence, they became an expansion of several hospitals’ procurement and purchasing departments, who are under immense pressure as need for equipment rises and sources dry up. There are numerous stories of groups making and donating masks from all directions, but the information the group provided could serve as a long term solution.

DFW CARE quickly formed a leadership team and several committees, including teams to work on fundraising, assessing hospital needs assessment, communication, sourcing materials, distribution, and data analysis.

Technology executive Yujian Yan was part of the network, and is president of a nonprofit called Ramunion USA, whose mission is to ” help people in need enjoy life.” The organization gave the group a way to transparently raise funds and supplies, while allowing for tax deductible donations and adding legitimacy to the group’s efforts.

“As someone who has been on many committees, this is the best and most efficient committee I have ever been in my life,” says Liu. “We have a sense of urgency and a common goal.”

Fundraising is no easy task as the economy collapses all around the country, but the transparency of the group has aided its success. The group publishes all donations daily, accounting for what was purchased and delivered. “We quickly gained donations in a really generous manner,” says Jenny Wang, an actuary is head of fundraising. “This is really a movement.”

Tina Zhu is helping lead the fundraising and is doing accounting for the group (she is a CPA), and has been impressed with the generosity of her community. While she is overjoyed to have had the success they have had, she hopes they aren’t in this role for long. “We don’t want to be in this situation,” Zhu says. “We want government to step up, do something, and do it quick.”

The group faced challenges finding the right person to talk to in the hospitals, as the facilities don’t usually take donations of materials and have strict requirements about the type of equipment they use. But even when the health systems weren’t publicly sharing any need, the group was hearing from their friends and family who worked in the hospitals that shortages were real. Eventually they made progress at a few systems, and were able to start making donations.

As they gained traction, word spread. “At the beginning we were not well accepted,  but the hospitals started to refer other hospitals to us as our volunteers continued trying to help them,” says Karen Wang, IT project manager and hospital assessment and liaison lead for the group.

The donations serve as a short term supply, but the group’s real value comes through sourcing the equipment. If the hospital approves of the donation, then they have a new source to order supply. The group’s Chinese connections and the increased supply there due to a slowing of COVID-19 allow DW CARE to find options for the masks and protective equipment that are in short supply these days. If the hospital approves the donation, then they now have a new supplier in a time of need.

Finding generosity at a time when stocks are crashing, businesses are shuttering, and massive layoffs are taking place can’t be easy. But the group’s mission supersedes their material wealth, and they know how important healthcare workers are to society. “We are also worried about our own health. If we get sick no one is taking care of us,” Liu says.  “We are concerned about the welfare of front line providers and our own.”

While they are having an impact, Liu knows that it will take a lot more than just their organization to get through pandemic successfully. “We are one family, and we are fighting this virus together, but we are just a drop of water in the sea.”

DFW CARE is not limited to the Chinese American community, and they are welcoming of anyone who wants to help. Learn more about how to help here.

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