Meet The Helpers: Salvation Army officer collects 20k masks to donate

To support the growing needs of first responders and the most vulnerable during the coronavirus emergency, The Salvation Army Oakland Chinatown Corps participated in #GetMePPE Bay Area and started the “Let’s Fight COVID-19 Together Project.” As a result, they were able to collect 20,000 medical-grade masks from individuals, churches, community clubs and other non-profits and donate them to area first responders. It was the idea of Captain Esther Hsu, Salvation Army Corps Officer (pastor) of The Salvation Army Oakland Chinatown Corps and Community Center in Oakland, California. We caught up with Hsu to hear more about how she’s helping in the midst of COVID-19 and what she is seeing from the frontlines of service.

Can you share more about your work? What is it like on the frontlines of service right now? 

Working on the front lines gives me a very different perspective because I see and hear of doctors, nurses and other frontline staff working without protective gear, therefore putting themselves and their families at risk. This saddens me but also motivates me to network and fundraise to get those protective gear to those who need it. So, I’m sad that I see this need in the community but I’m also hopeful and driven to do something about it.

What are the most pressing needs you see?

The most pressing need is getting PPEs to frontline staff. They are working so hard for the community while putting themselves and their families at risk so we need to do what we can to support them. As important as they are, it’s getting more and more difficult to get PPEs. 

How did you start the “Let’s Fight COVID-19 Together Project” and can you share more about it?

Since I am from Taiwan, people are very used to wearing masks to prevent the spread of viruses and diseases, especially after SARS. I was already following news from Wuhan, China, so I knew this was more serious than U.S. news was reporting in the beginning. I knew that action needed to be taken to protect Americans and lessen the impact of this pandemic. The driving force that started this project was my daughter’s friend. She is an RN and she was talking to my daughter about the situation at her hospital and how they have a COVID-19 unit but didn’t have enough PPEs. She said the nurses were getting frustrated and worried. I knew that if doctors and nurses dealing with COVID-19 patients didn’t have PPEs, the spread would be even worse, so I quickly contacted my friends and previous congregation members and asked if they had any spare PPEs that they could give to this nurse. That was really the start of this project. 

We didn’t have money or resources, but we contacted everyone we knew and asked for mask donations (especially since many people had bought masks during the wildfires) and money. This grew and became a worldwide project of fundraising, including Chinese friends, church friends, and Chinese Organizations from Taiwan, U.S., China, and Canada, buying and sending masks to frontline staff that need PPEs.

I also asked for donations for The Salvation Army’s social services to protect our officers, staff and volunteers while they are serving those experiencing homelessness and distributing food bags to the community. We have more donation masks coming and will continue to donate to the front-line workers.   

What was the response to your donation of the masks?

We have donated to around 16 hospitals in California, Ohio, Massachusetts and Texas. We have also donated to Menifee, California, Police Department. Their response is gratitude; they were very touched that during this desperate time, the community was there watching out for them. We also connected with other organizations and gave PPEs to members of the public.

We’ve received letters of gratitude from many of the recipients. One, from the Internal Medicine Residents at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles, said: “Thank you for your generous donation of KN95 masks. During this difficult time, it is uplifting to receive support from your organization. With your donation, we are able to continue to care for patients while protecting ourselves, our colleagues, and our families. We are humbled and grateful for your kindness and care.”

How do you handle the emotional stress of the COVID-19 situation? How do you encourage those who come to you who might be afraid?

I pray and ask God what I can do to help because I see the need. It is a lot of praying and trusting God will follow through because he connected me with many people and organizations to work together to help our community. 

I share that God is a living God and how he is able to use this situation to help people and organizations. He continues to be present and protect us. At the same time, I’ll teach them to always wash hands and be cautious and do their part in keeping the infection rate low. Then I pray for them and introduce them to the organization that mails our masks to the public. I want them to feel encouraged and hopeful that God is with them and the community is still working together to get through this difficult time.

Can you share a story of recovery, kindness or selflessness you’ve witnessed?

Through this COVID-19 project, I’ve connected with many people and organizations for PPEs. But this week the officer in charge of our Family Shelters told me that they were running short on food to feed the homeless and those living in their shelter, along with food bags for the community. I asked the leader of United Chinese Americans (UCA) and the President of UCA in D.C. told me about an event. They are planning a Chinese American Food of Love Day (serving 50 states and 100 cities) and wanted to partner with The Salvation Army to feed the frontline workers and those experiencing homelessness. They even pledged to donate money to our Oakland social services. I was touched by their kindness because during this hardship of the pandemic, people are still working together to help each other, and this shows that God’s love is still flowing through this community.

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