By David Peterkofsky
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person instruction at UC Berkeley last spring, a surprising and touching response from UC Berkeley parents on the other side of the Pacific Ocean helped the university community in a big way.
Even more impressive, the generosity had actually flowed in the other direction across the Pacific just a few weeks earlier.
The story begins in January, when China first began to struggle with the COVID-19 outbreak. As the situation there intensified, a team of Chinese Berkeley parent families in the U.S. mobilized to send donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) to China. But by late March, the virus’s spread led to shutdowns across the U.S., including at Berkeley. That’s when campus staff learned that a group of parents from China wanted to do something to support Berkeley during the crisis.
The parents in China, who communicate regularly with parents here in the U.S. via the social media app WeChat, devised a plan to ship donated PPE — specifically gowns and masks, including highly sought-after N-95 masks — to University Health Services at the Tang Center as well as nearby hospitals, police departments, shelters and other community services.
In all, the 20-member Chinese group raised about $70,000, which they used to source the highest grade materials they could find across China. The group enlisted Ivy Shen, who lives near campus in Pinole, Calif., and is the parent of a second-year student, to distribute the materials locally.
“It amazes me that we haven’t met each other in person, and we’ve gotten all these things done, without any complaints and coming from different backgrounds,” said Shen, who has also volunteered for more than a decade with a local medical charity. “But we only have one goal, to ‘light the way’ on behalf of Berkeley’s Chinese family.”
As of mid-July, the parent group had amassed impressive donation totals: 50,000 masks, 500 N95 masks, 400 regular-protection PPE gowns and more than 1,500 full-body protection gowns used by nurses and doctors in intensive-care units caring for COVID patients. Shen distributed everything, including the donation of full-body PPE to area hospitals in Oakland, Richmond and Vallejo.
Her deliveries included six different trips to campus, where she worked with Armando Cortes, the university’s PPE coordinator — and saw firsthand just how much the donations were appreciated. “Armando was very surprised by the generosity and outpouring of support for the campus community from Berkeley’s Chinese community,” she said.
Equally touched by the group’s dedication was the Cal Parents team on campus, who routinely see just how dedicated the parents in China are to Berkeley’s well-being despite being an ocean away.
“When it comes to Cal, they will do anything,” said Rose Hsu, assistant director of parent philanthropy and engagement, and manager of the Cal Parents Ambassador program. “Their compassion makes me so proud to be Chinese and inspires me every day to make Berkeley a better place knowing that they have given us their greatest gift: their children.”