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Cecilia Birge and Xiaobing Li pose with donated Personal Protective Equipment.
Courtesy of Cecilia Birge / Princeton Chinese Community

What began as a group discussion on WeChat with concerned members of the Princeton Chinese Community turned into an overnight operation — one that raised $10,000 on GoFundMe in just one day for the fight against COVID-19. Since its inception on Friday, March 20, the organization has raised over $20,925.

The local organization, run by a board committee of ten volunteers, is using the fund to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and face masks, for local healthcare workers and others at risk.

According to Cecilia Birge, a board member and spokesperson for the group, the organization has already purchased 10,000 pairs of gloves and several thousand surgical masks.

As supplies have become more scarce and shipments more unpredictable, however, the organization’s task has grown more difficult. Birge said the group turned to nontraditional methods to source their community’s needs, from reaching out to suppliers in China to negotiating with companies nationwide to donate small fractions of their larger shipments. The group also receives PPE through donations from Princeton residents.

The group is aware that this equipment must meet specific requirements for medical use, and members have worked to educate themselves on the different types of face masks on the market and how to read product labels to ensure reliability.

“We only want to donate products that are properly certified,” Birge said.

In addition to supplying medical safety equipment to healthcare workers, the group also donates PPE to school volunteers who box school lunches for local children in the reduced lunch program.

The Princeton Chinese Community has also designated five drop-off locations for food donations throughout town. To date, they have donated two carloads of food to Share My Meals and three large boxes of food to Arm in Arm

“It takes a village,” Birge said, describing the “heartwarming” generational collaboration that makes these efforts possible. “When I pick up [donations] from the committee members, usually it’s the grandparents who are home, holding the garage doors for me, and helping load the cars.” 

She also credits younger volunteers for their technical savvy in setting up a mobile scanning system to register incoming donations.

In order to distribute the donations, Birge said that the organization relies on the Princeton Police Department, and commended Police Chief Nick Sutter and his officers for their dedication in times of crisis.

“Whenever we have a request, they answer immediately,” she said.

Princeton Police Department assisting the organization with equipment donation delivery.

Cecilia Birge / Princeton Chinese Community

While she praised the local government, she said that the federal and state governments need to “get their act together.”

“Even as we speak, there is still no efficient way to test [for the virus],” Birge said. Her comment is in line with multiple reports about New Jersey’s failure to provide adequate testing for those who show symptoms of COVID-19. 

Birge also condemned President Donald Trump for his usage of the phrase “Chinese Virus,” citing this speech as racist rhetoric towards the Asian American community. However, as members focus their energy on the relief project, Birge said the Princeton Chinese Community has not yet had the chance to publicly address xenophobia.

According to Birge, the organization’s Chinese identity has uniquely situated its members to help. She noted that part of the group’s sense of urgency and diligence came from following the outbreak since its early stages.

“This is primarily the Chinese immigrant community,” she said. “Many of us still have families and friends back home in China, so we lived through the Wuhan experience remotely and that impacted us strongly. So when it hit the American soil, we knew how bad and how fast this could be.”

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