Tzu Chi USA’s First Shipment of Medical Supplies Sent to COVID-19 Affected Areas in China

National Headquarters  |  February 13, 2020
Tzu Chi USA delivering the first load of supplies for the affected areas on the 7th. Volunteers are at the aviation warehouse to confirm the shipment is ready to go. Photo by Huiching Su

Translated by Diana Chang

The COVID-19 outbreak in China has overwhelmed the healthcare system across all affected areas, and airlines have canceled many flights to and from China. 

Thus, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation launched a fundraiser, “Providing Relief During the New Coronavirus Outbreak,” to provide essential supplies that will directly aid the doctors, nurses, and hospitals diligently tending to patients throughout China while striving to keep others safe. With the help of many loving hearts, Tzu Chi USA was able to prepare an array of medical supplies to aid areas impacted by the epidemic. 

The delivery, however, was unfortunately delayed due to a flight cancellation. Even so, Tzu Chi volunteers refused to become discouraged and took these challenges head-on. The first batch of supplies was shipped out on February 7th.

William Keh, the CEO of Tzu Chi USA Medical Foundation (TCMF), and a handful of steadfast volunteers went to Los Angeles International Airport in the afternoon to clear customs for the aid supplies to ship. Troy Kung was also key to ensuring Tzu Chi’s cargo could be cleared with care. 

Taking on the Challenges

Dr. William Keh expressed his deepest gratitude for all the generous donations and support given through the fundraising campaign launched by Tzu Chi USA.

Dr. William Keh, CEO of Tzu Chi Medical Foundation explains how difficult it is to purchase these medical supplies due to the scarcity of the resources. Photo by Huiching Su

Dr. Keh explained that many people have encountered difficulties purchasing medical supplies due to their scarcity. However, with the assistance of a team of outstanding professors and doctors, Tzu Chi volunteers were able to purchase protective overalls, masks, and protective eyewear. The medical supplies must be received to be considered successful, as before the items are received, the order can still be canceled, the order quantity may be reduced, or be otherwise further delayed.

Another challenge is transportation.

The biggest difficulty in delivery of the aid is that many flights have been canceled. We can only count on the existing flights scheduled. Fortunately, [Tzu Chi] can manage to transfer the aid to different ports as directed, and there will be a logistics company to handle the final delivery. [The support of Tzu Chi members around the world] is our strength.

Flights Continue to Decline

Troy Kung, who has worked in the logistics industry for many years, volunteered his time to assist Tzu Chi in handling the customs clearance. He dedicated his day off from work to transport and deliver all the boxes in his vehicle to the airport shipping and handling warehouse. Mr. Kung confirmed that the delivery of goods to China is indeed getting harder and harder each day. He also explained that air cargo is divided into passenger and cargo aircraft. After September 11th, 2001, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security implemented the 9/11 Commission Act, thus mandating that shipping units have a “known shipper status,” and the goods must pass a series of thorough inspections before they can be loaded onto an aircraft.

Troy Kung, an expert from the logistics industry, volunteers his time to assist Tzu Chi in handling the customs clearance. Photo by Huiching Su

Tzu Chi USA’s first wave of supplies are flying via passenger aircraft. Originally, the transport of the supplies had been restricted to cargo aircraft. However, Mr. Kung had explained that “Before China began its Chinese New Year break, the number of cargo aircraft had been reduced. No cargo deliveries were being made, and there were no aircraft returning. The flights had been reduced dramatically during the Chinese New Year break. Later, the outbreak triggered a strictly controlled cargo aircraft schedule. Flights have been continuously decreasing, and it’s really difficult to ship cargo at this moment.”

Good Deeds Guiding Good Thoughts

To see the boxes of medical supplies being loaded into the aviation warehouse by the staff and air cargo department was a tremendous relief after days of constant concern. It also provided a receipt confirming that the shipment would board the flight from Los Angeles to Guangdong, China, at 10:30 on the evening of the 7th.

Tzu Chi volunteers loading a pallet full of medical supplies onto Troy Kung’s vehicle. Photo by Huiching Su
The aviation warehouse staff is unloading the donated supplies into the designated area for shipment. Photo by Huiching Su

Mary Keh, a Tzu Chi volunteer, spoke of their difficulties. Originally, they were informed that the supplies had to be ready on the 4th, then loaded on the aircraft on the 7th. Volunteers worked tirelessly to have the supplies ready by the 3rd, only to be notified that the cargo aircraft scheduled to depart on the 5th was canceled. Their hearts sank, but then on the 6th, Troy Kung came to the rescue, utilizing his years of experience in the logistics industry to find another cargo aircraft company for Tzu Chi.

Obstacles continued to emerge during the customs clearing process. On the 6th, volunteers were contacted by the airline again and notified that Tzu Chi was an unknown shipper, which could result in the rejection of their humanitarian supplies that were to be loaded onto the passenger aircraft on the 7th, and they would have to wait for another cargo aircraft on the 9th. However, Mr. Kung was able to get the supplies approved in time, and gave Tzu Chi known shipper status. 

Overcoming Challenges With Love

Although we are pleased to confirm the delivery progress, more challenges await as fewer and fewer cargo and passenger aircraft travel to China.

The aviation cargo manager explained that the continuously decreasing number of flights is inevitable. Indeed, all are concerned about the outbreak in the affected areas, and there is a great deal of crucial aid ready to be sent to China to provide much-needed relief, but due to limited outbound flights, it’s quickly becoming even more difficult to deliver. After assessing the challenges to come, Tzu Chi volunteers sought more details from the aviation cargo department.

Tzu Chi volunteers are happy to see the supplies being loaded and ready for departure. Photo by Huiching Su

Dr. William Keh explained that, according to the information he received, the epidemic had yet to reach its peak, and perhaps if it does in the next seven days, it will allow the outbreak to be brought under control. Tzu Chi will continue to care for those impacted with the utmost love, diligence, and respect, as they deliver crucial supplies across China. Tzu Chi volunteers believe that with everyone’s support, we can make a positive difference in this time of need. We’ll continue to do our very best to deliver everyone’s love to the affected areas, and help the medical professionals on the front lines stay safe while diligently serving their patients.

Please send your love to the people of China as they navigate this truly difficult time.

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