Each Mask is a Gift of Love During the Pandemic

Northeast  |  April 27, 2020
Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Regional Office in New York mobilizes a team of volunteers to unload 630,000 medical masks sent from Tzu Chi Global Headquarters in Taiwan. Photo / Daphne Liu

Written by Daphne Liu
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

The busy streets of Flushing, in New York City, are calm and quiet since the stay-at-home order that went into effect on March 22, 2020. Or they were until the morning of April 16, when a truck pulling a 20-foot container drove into the parking lot behind Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Regional Office, breaking the silence for its nearest neighbors. 

These unexpected sounds of activity were proclaiming the arrival of love from Tzu Chi’s Global Headquarters in Hualien, Taiwan, as this truck was carrying 630,000 medical masks that would bring peace of mind and hope to many.

Love From Across the Ocean

It was nine o’clock in the morning, when 20 volunteers from Tzu Chi’s New York branch gathered in the parking lot, each wearing full protective gear. There was excitement in the air as if something big was about to happen. Indeed, one of the volunteers, Michael Zhang, declared with enthusiasm:

We came as soon as we received the notice. How could we miss this important mission to receive medical supplies with love from Taiwan? Many volunteers took off from work to come.

Finally, after a three-day customs clearance process, the truckload of medical masks arrives at the Tzu Chi New York branch. Photo / Freeman Su
Nearly 20 Tzu Chi volunteers are fully prepared to unload the truckload of medical masks and distribute them to Tzu Chi’s local offices in New York, and beyond. Photo/Freeman Su

As soon as the door of the container opened, the volunteers unloaded the goods and immediately began organizing them for distribution. Time was of the essence in getting the supplies out, and hindrances, such as the fact that only six airports were still in operation across the country at the time, had to be overcome.

In the first wave of aid, Tzu Chi Global Headquarters allocated 700,000 medical masks for all of Tzu Chi USA’s regions on the East Coast combined. Of those, 630,000 reached Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Region first, and 70,000 were sent directly to the Washington DC Region. 

In turn, of the 630,000 medical masks, Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Region was to keep 490,000 and forward 140,000 to the Mid-Atlantic Region. However, the Northeast region chose to send 20,000 of its share to Puerto Rico, and also lent 70,000 to Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region. All in all, getting the masks to the different regions would be a logistical feat.

Mingchang Lin, a volunteer from New Jersey who drove to New York to assist in receiving the container and organizing the distribution of its contents, remarked that “seeing the volunteers in New York so optimistic and helpful despite the pandemic, I’m truly touched and grateful for their efforts and those of the volunteers in Taiwan.”

Volunteers maintain a safe social distance during the unloading of medical masks arriving from Taiwan. Photo / Freeman Su

The Start of a Lifeline for New Yorkers

But this shipment would only be the first to arrive from Taiwan. Freeman Su, Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Region, recounted a video conference call with Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters in San Dimas, and Tzu Chi Global Headquarters in Taiwan. They discussed how many medical masks New York might need, and the memory still brings tears to his eyes.  

“At that moment, the Governor of New York had not yet implemented mandatory face coverings in public. I expected to apply for 100,000 medical masks. Still, Master Cheng Yen thought further, with worry that the pandemic situation will extend, and demand for many more medical masks would follow. [She made the] decision to give one million medical masks to Tzu Chi regions on the U.S. East Coast,” he said.

"The pandemic is severe, but we must learn the compassion and wisdom of Master Cheng Yen, hold the concept of equality to all beings, respect human rights, and take care of everyone.

Freeman Su explained that “we have to learn from Buddha’s compassion and utilize these masks to their fullest. Since the 490,000 medical masks are Level 1 masks and are suitable for personnel use, they will be provided to first-responders, charitable organizations, religious groups, as well as our volunteers, members, and family members.” 

As for the high barrier Level 3 masks used by frontline healthcare workers, Tzu Chi Global Headquarters has scheduled to provide 300,000 to Tzu Chi’s regions on the East Coast by next week. Subsequently, they’ll be distributed to hospitals and healthcare facilities so that frontline healthcare workers can take care of patients with peace of mind.

The Level 1 medical masks sent from Tzu Chi Global Headquarters are quality face masks for general use. Photo / Jupiter Chiou

The Start of a Lifeline for New Yorkers

Getting a million medical masks from Taiwan to New York within two weeks is quite a miracle. But, as Horace Wang, a Tzu Chi volunteer who was responsible for the shipments’ transport and customs clearance reveals, the kindness of people encountered along the way helped make it possible and did even more.

Horace had contacted customs and airport personnel in an attempt to accelerate the processing of these shipments. Aware of the life-saving value of the masks arriving from Taiwan, the customs broker expedited clearance, and a senior executive of an airline company decided to eliminate 75% of storage fees, saving Tzu Chi over $4,000 in costs.

During the entire delivery process, I saw people across the globe coming together to help each other. Regardless of race or nationality, everyone’s here together, helping each other with unconditional love.

Horace Wang (right), responsible for transport and customs clearance, meets Freeman Su (left), Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region Executive Director, when a shipment arrives. Photo / Jupiter Chiou


A medical mask is so small, yet it can save lives, thus offering love within each fiber. These face masks from Taiwan traversed thousands of miles to reach New York and bring Master Cheng Yen’s care to those needing protection during the pandemic. Let’s join the effort and extend our love far and wide too. 

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