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#MyMaskMyStory: “I’ve got to do something!”

Northeast  |  July 6, 2020
Lina Lam (above) arranged for face shields (top right) to be produced and shipped to the US. Her nephew (middle right) and a hospital security worker in Vietnam (bottom right) wear the same shields distributed by Tzu Chi volunteers in California. Photos/Lina Lam

Part of our Together While Apart campaign, #MyMaskMyStory is a collection of personal accounts from individuals with deep ties to the COVID-19 pandemic. These include those who have volunteered, those who have donated, and those who have received.

Edited by Dilber Shatursun

“It was around the time when the news story came out about Elmhurst Hospital having huge issues with PPE… reading stuff about how they had to bring in trucks for the bodies and seeing pictures of it really affected me psychologically. I remember feeling very hopeless, very helpless, and that just led me to think, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ I just didn’t know what.”

“I remember people saying ‘you can make face masks,’ but, I’m terrible at sewing! So I started reading into other ways I could help. But, those images had really affected me and I wanted to address that specific problem of shortages of PPE.”

“I was talking to my dad about it… and him being my dad, he said he wanted to send me sanitizer, face masks, and face shields. But, I said ‘I don’t need it. Other people do.’ And then I asked him ‘wait- if you wanted to send me face shields, where did you get them?’ And it turns out my brother, who owns an acrylic fabrication factory in Vietnam, had been switching production to manufacturing face shields to donate to local hospitals, for a while at that point. That was the lightbulb: if I could get some over here, even if on the surface level it’s very small, it could help.”

“I started talking to my brother some more to find out how I could arrange shipment for that, especially because there were restrictions on medical supplies at that point. It turns out you can ship, if it’s a small amount, through commercial channels. My brother said he’s happy to waive manufacturing costs. But, it turns out it cost more to ship than to manufacture.”

“There were very limited options to ship; those that would bring the shields into the hands of the people that needed them the quickest were the most expensive. It cost $250 to ship just 100 face shields, so I was doing the math in my head.”

“At the same time, my student loans were in forbearance, and I was just going to keep paying it. But, if I could use that money to pay for the shipment, then I could get multiple shipments. Then my dad and sister wanted to chip in. We were able to get multiple shipments out.”

“But then, I started to think, ‘OK, so how would I get these into the hands into the people that needed it – without going through channels that would cause further delay?’ I asked around through my networks, at work, and through friends. Finally, I talked to Nancy Wei [website content manager at Tzu Chi USA], and her company was coordinating donations of PPE at various hospitals. I asked her to get me in touch with Kevin Wong [who leads all PPE donations and distributions at Tzu Chi Medical].

“I also was able to get in touch with someone at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and they were happy to take donations as well, so I arranged two shipments to them and to [Tzu Chi]… Being friends with Nancy, I know her work is always on the frontlines of helping people whenever there’s a disaster… I knew it was an organization I could trust, and, having that personal connection, it gave me peace of mind.”

“And, I’m happy it went to the people that needed it most.”

The face shields Lina Lam, a performance marketing manager based in NYC, donated to Tzu Chi USA were re-distributed among a number of institutions, including the Orthopaedic Institute for Children, City of Hope, Marian Regional Medical Center, and more. Tzu Chi is grateful for the compassionate contributions of people like her at a time of crisis, pain, and great uncertainty. As the pandemic continues, we are still bringing personal protective equipment to institutions, groups, and individuals across the country. To see the entire #MyMaskMyStory collection, click here.

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