Some members of the Vassar community more than 7,000 miles from the campus have united to help the college—and the community—combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
In late March and early April, more than 25 shipments of protective gear—masks, gloves, Tyvek hazmat suits, thermometers, protective eye shields, and other items—arrived on the campus from China. The protective gear was purchased with $44,485 donated by the parents of Vassar’s Chinese students, 48 of whom stayed on campus for the balance of the Spring Semester along with about 180 other students because they could not make arrangements to go home when the outbreak occurred.
The support from the Chinese parents was launched by Liu Ying, of Beijing, whose daughter, Xinyue Hu is a junior. “I have always had a very good impression of Vassar, ever since my daughter and I visited the beautiful campus when she applied,” Liu said this week. “My daughter says her professors have been guiding angels, and when we heard that the college was allowing our children to remain on campus at a time when many other colleges and universities in the U.S. were closing their doors, we were all very appreciative.”
President Elizabeth Bradley said the Vassar community was just as appreciative of the parents. “We at Vassar are overwhelmed with gratitude for the generosity and support from the parents of our Chinese students in helping us cope with this extraordinary crisis,” Bradley said. “Supporting each other in all of our endeavors is part of Vassar’s DNA, and these much appreciated donations are just the latest example of that sentiment.”
Liu said she and other parents of Vassar’s Chinese students had established an informal network even before the pandemic arrived, so it was relatively easy for them to mobilize when they learned that protective gear was in short supply in the United States. She said she consulted with Peipei Qiu, Professor of Chinese and Japanese on the Louise Boyd Dale and Alfred Lichtenstein Chair, to determine what supplies were needed most.
Once they learned what Vassar needed, the parents swung into action. Liu helped her fellow parents form working groups that were in charge of exploring resources and coordinating the donation of the most needed supplies. “One of our parents is an accountant, so she took charge of the donations of money,” Liu said. “Everyone used their own area of expertise to help with the project. This was truly a team effort.”
When a sufficient amount of material had arrived on campus, members of Vassar’s Facilities Operations staff assembled kits of protective supplies for each student and distributed them at Gordon Commons. Each kit contained 50 paper masks, disposable thermometers, hand sanitizer, tissues, and Tylenol. In addition, a stockpile of N95 masks, suitable for use in hospitals and other high-risk areas, were reserved for students who were planning to try to return to their homes in China.
Rosaleen Cardillo, Director of Procurement and Auxiliary Services, said some of the supplies that were handed out to the students were part of a stockpile that the college has been building and maintaining since 2004, when preparations were made for combating an outbreak of the avian influenza virus (bird flu). But she said she and her staff were grateful for all of the supplies that arrived from China. “This outpouring of help has been truly amazing,” Cardillo said. “We are lucky to have Peipei (Qiu) help us organize all of this, and we are overwhelmed by the donations, as well as by some of the notes and letters the parents in China have sent us.”
Cardillo said some protective masks had been donated to the Arlington Fire Department, which provides protection for the campus. She added that Vassar officials had established a relationship with the Dutchess County Department of Emergency Response to coordinate the delivery of other supplies to local hospitals and other first responders.
Xiaohui Feng, a professional accountant and mother of Vassar student Jiaqi Peng ’23, was in charge of collecting and distributing the funds. She said she and the others involved in the effort felt strongly that the supplies should be distributed not only on the Vassar campus but to the surrounding community as well.
“Our children are studying at Vassar, which is a second home for them,” Xiaohui said. “Just as Vassar is part of the Poughkeepsie community, our children are as well, and we need to support that community.”
After receiving the donated material from the parents, Vassar distributed some of it to the Arlington Fire Department, the Dutchess County Department of Emergency Response, and the Town of Poughkeepsie Police Department. The donations included more than 4,000 pairs of disposable gloves, more than 2,000 N95 masks, and 170 Tyvek protective suits, as well as quantities of thermometers, eye goggles, and hand sanitizer.
Local first responders and public officials have expressed their gratitude to the parents of Vassar’s Chinese students. Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro publicly expressed his thanks to Qiu and the families of Chinese students for their help in protecting local first responders. “This global pandemic has brought us all closer together, even while we must stay apart, so many are reaching out to help and show how our community has responded during these difficult times,” Molinaro said.
Arlington Fire Chief William Steenbergh and Town of Poughkeepsie Police Captain Michael O’Dowd also offered their thanks. “Locating and acquiring face masks, gloves, face shields, and other forms of safety equipment has been extremely difficult throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and when we were fortunate to locate supplies, they were often prohibitively expensive,” Steenbergh said. “These supplies will allow our EMTs and paramedics to continue providing critical emergency medical care to the community, while keeping themselves safe and healthy.”
Qiu said she felt privileged to be able to help the parents provide the donations to the college and community. “The generosity of these donors goes far beyond parents’ love for their own children,” she said. “They made it clear from the beginning that they were doing this not only for Vassar College but also for the Poughkeepsie community. Having gone through the pandemic themselves, they said they knew how bad it was and would like to help communities in the U.S. to combat the coronavirus.
“I remain humbled seeing them work around the clock to gather the scarce PPE supplies and look for the fastest ways to ship them to the U.S.,” Qiu continued. “In their generous action, I saw profound humanitarian compassion and the true spirit of global collaboration. The contributions they made to our community, both materially and spiritually, will be a lasting inspiration to us.”
Some of the packages contained handwritten notes from the donors. One note, from a parent named Lydia Yu, said: “Hello, from the other side of the world, I have personally gone through the quarantine process and know how hard it could be, so I would love to assist Vassar College with a donation of masks. I hope there are enough to at least make a small difference in the community!”
Liu Ying said she and her fellow Vassar parents had sent their children to the college “because we want them to become independent and be critical thinkers. This pandemic has caused a great challenge to them, and we want them to use the experience to learn how to meet hardships and challenges in the future and become stronger.”
She said the entire effort by her fellow parents and those who helped facilitate the donations on the Vassar campus had prompted her to recall a Chinese saying: ‘“In dangerous times, we see true hearts and true friendships.”
“Countries have boundaries,” Liu said, “but love does not.’”