Community: Meet the Nonprofit Little Masters Club in Seattle, WA

Interviewer: Emily Feng; May 30, 2020

Interviewee: Haiqin Wang, PhD, founder and former president @ LMC

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The Little Masters Club aims to instill solidarity within its members & the local community (Little Masters Club).

First of all, I saw all the amazing work your organization has done with donating Personal Protective Equipment to our local community! Could you start out by giving a brief introduction about the overall mission of your organization and its origins?

Of course! Little Masters Club is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to help our kids learn through leading and participating in various projects. The COVID-19 project is one of such projects that aims to help the local hospitals and communities in the Greater Seattle Area during the coronavirus pandemic. Our work in donating Personal Protective Equipment has largely occurred in 2 phases.

Lily Yin, one of the LMC’s founders, started by collecting PPE from local Chinese communities and donating the available PPE to local hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, etc. In the months of January and February, a lot of Chinese families in Seattle had purchased PPE to send overseas. They were startled by the rapid spread and wanted to do their part in containing it. Following the outbreak in Washington, Lilly realized that people might still have surplus equipment to donate. In the middle of March, local hospitals asked doctors and other health care employees to find their own PPE due to the huge shortages. We understood how serious the pandemic had gotten in Wuhan, and didn't want the same to happen in Seattle. On March 16th, LMC called up the local Chinese American Community to donate N95 masks to the hospitals. In the first two weeks, we collected over 2,000 N95 masks and donated them to over 40 healthcare facilities. This ensured that the facilities had extended time to purchase bulk PPE.

We started collecting from local families, but quickly realized that wasn’t enough, either. There were a lot of different brands of PPE and varying sizes to sort out, there were many needing organizations to make contact with and distribute PPE, there are needs for much more than merely a handful of volunteers parsing through the collected supplies and distributing them to frontline workers. I decided to step up alongside two other board members, Emma Hao and Cindy Fu, to help out.

Purchasing materials from China formed the basis of our second phase. In a week’s time, we fundraised over $33K from generous donors, far above our target amount. We are so grateful that we were able to purchase a lot of PPE following that and give back to our frontline workers.

"In a week’s time, we fundraised over 33K from generous donors, far over our target amount."

Clearly, fundraising is a crucial part of your mission. Has it been easy reaching out to people, and what has the general response been?

We are very fortunate to have an established platform where we can reach out to community members. Specifically, we have around 4 WeChat groups with approximately 500 people in each. It’s felt very gratifying to be able to advocate our ideas, send out news, and establish fundraisers with a generous and cooperative audience.

When time came to fundraise for our week-long PPE event, we also had a strong volunteer team backing up our efforts. Our team set up a homepage to disperse information and delegated a responsible treasurer and bookkeeper. We updated our communications regularly, and the result was a pool of contributions far exceeding our initial goal in a short amount of time!

Our people are so awesome working together! Immediately after we reached our fundraiser goal, we were able to form a PPE acquisition team and a PPE distribution team in no time. The acquisition team was able to rapidly familiarize themselves with the FDA, NIOSH and Chinese GB standards and restrictions on PPE. They spent a huge amount of time searching for qualified face masks and respirators. Our distribution team could deliver to the hospitals, usually within 24 hours after the PPE arrival.

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Volunteers work together to collect and distribute qualified face masks and respirators (Little Masters Club).

It’s amazing that people are truly coming together. I also saw that LMC is distributing meals to frontline workers. What meals are you all retrieving and what’s the process for donating them?

Nearing the end of April, a lot of hospitals started telling us that our contributions had helped significantly, and that they were now properly stocked-up. On the other hand, it became more and more difficult to get qualified PPE from overseas, and as a result, we weren’t able to garner as much PPE as we’d like.

We asked ourselves what we could use the remainder of our money on, and decided to focus on meal donations! We spent quite a bit of time crafting a plan to tackle 3 different locations. We donated over 80 meals to the University of Washington’s Virology Lab on a specified day, donated continuously to the Harborview Medical Center during the week of May 11th, and provided lunch to Overlake Hospital workers for 4 consecutive days in the same week.

The organization donated meals to the UW Virology Lab, Harborview Medical Center, and Overlake Hospital (Little Masters Club).

Can you tell me about some of the hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other frontline units you’re involved in? What’s an experience that was very gratifying during this process of volunteering?

Among our list of partners are hospitals like Overlake, Swedish, Kaiser, Evergreen and UWMC. Luckily, we have a group of extremely dedicated volunteers who distribute the PPE and thank you cards. Outside of big hospitals, we also have coordinators contacting clinics/smaller organizations, first-responders, and police departments in Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue, Sammamish, Issaquah, and Seattle. Other places we’ve noticed need help are those providing essential services, such as the King County Metro who have drivers running buses, school districts who keep providing free lunch to students in need, and Bloodworks NW, an organization that keeps their door open for blood donations.

I feel so happy that our efforts have had tangible impacts on the community. Last night, I saw that we’d been featured on the King 5 news, and everything felt worth it. An experience that really stuck with me was seeing nurses and staff really using the PPE we send. The first time we arrived at Overlake, we stayed in the drop-off zone and employees rushed to pick up our batches of PPE. They weren’t even wearing masks. The third time we went, however, the employees that greeted us were wearing masks and protected. Hospitals also send cards and emails to express their appreciation, and that warms my heart, knowing all our effort did have its efficacy.

What can other people in the community do to help? I noticed that you have also had people doing online tutoring and selling crafts.

Yes! we’re super grateful to have a set of young volunteers sending PPEs. Others are also doing their best to support the LMC from home by conducting online classes or sewing cloth masks. They donated their hard earned money to us and handcrafted face masks to hospitals, which has been immensely helpful.

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Youth volunteers assist in crafting cloth masks and sending them off to hospitals (Little Masters Club).

I really loved the message that you all have spread about us “being in this together.” What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the outbreak? This can either be pertaining to events happening right now, or what we can take with us into the future.

To me, this is a movement that all Chinese Americans need to stand together on. It doesn’t matter what organization you’re from or represent, but we should have solidarity. We are collaborating with HUST Alumni Association of Seattle, United Chinese Americans of Washington State (UCAWA), Priority Foundation, and Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA) to donate supplies, communicate frequently, and coordinate programs.

This movement isn’t just about Little Masters Club, but our whole community. If we work together, we can get our foot in the door and be recognized for our strength and unity. We are not just immigrants who retreat away from society, but rather critical and integral components of our nation.

"It doesn’t matter what organization you’re from or represent, but we should have solidarity."

Amazing, thank you again, so, so much for these responses. Is there anything else you would like to share or reiterate?

I really wanted to emphasize how grateful I am for all of our donors and volunteers! This entire program would not exist without them, and the overwhelming support that’s propelled us far beyond our goals was unimaginable to me when we started. Together, we have made over 60,000 PPE donations and 730 meal donations to our local hospitals and societies. It was the most rewarding thing seeing that the Greater Seattle area had quickly contained the virus, even though it had the first discovered case and top death rate among US metropolitan cities at the beginning of the pandemic.

I would also like to share our web page for the COVID-19 project, which offers more detailed info and a complete list of our donors’ names and supporting organizations. The URL is at: https://littlemastersclub.org/community-events/2020we-are-in-action/

At last, please accept my sincere appreciation for your team’s effort to put people’s stories together and record this historic moment in a unique way.