Community: Meet the Northbrook Chinese American Community in Illinois

Interviewer: Derrik Chen; May 29, 2020

Interviewee: Tong Chen

The Northbrook Chinese American Community with their donations at the Northbrook Fire Department (Tong Chen).

Can you explain the initiative that you’ve taken a part in?

We’re a group of Chinese American parents in Northbrook that want to help those in need. Specifically, we want to help healthcare workers and elderly people as well. In March, we started collecting donations to buy gear for health workers and those in need. We knew it was hard to buy masks and other items, so we thought to actually get those things from donations if people had unused or an excess amount of items. We collected thousands of all different kinds of masks including N-95s, surgical masks, disposable masks, and daily protective masks. The N-95s and surgical masks, we donated them directly to the hospitals. We donated the rest of the masks to seniors and immunocompromised citizens because we believed that part of the first-line fighters were actually these people. There’s a higher chance that an immunocompromised person gets sick, or that they worsen at a faster pace, so if they don’t get sick, nurses and other doctors have to treat less severe cases as well.

We’ve received donations from more than 65 people. We’ve received $6,500 in donations from those around our community, and we’ve used that money to buy 4,500 surgical masks and 3,000 protective masks. Additionally, people have donated nearly 10,000 masks. We donated the surgical masks to nearby hospitals, like the NorthShore Health System, and we’ve also donated them to the fire departments in Northbrook and Glenview. We donated to six nursing homes and senior residences across the area.

"We’ve received $6,500 in donations from those around our community, and we’ve used that money to buy 4,500 surgical masks and 3,000 protective masks."

Why were you interested in joining this initiative?

Once the pandemic occurred, we were interested in donating because we knew how bad the virus was from a personal standpoint. We knew that the fatality toll in China was high, and we all had relatives there that told us it was a serious issue. We also knew that it was difficult to find masks on the market. We thought: what could we do to help? We were inspired by what the president of Harvard University, Lawrence Bacow, said, “No one knows what we will face in the weeks ahead. But everyone knows enough to understand that COVID-19 will test our capacity to be kind and generous, and to see beyond ourselves and our own interests. Our task now is to bring the best of who we are and what we do to a world that is more complex and more confused than any of us would like it to be. May we all proceed with wisdom and grace.”

The organization has received over 10,000 masks and purchased over 7,500 (Tong Chen).

How would you say that your position as an immunocompromised person has influenced your willingness to help out?

I was frightened, scared that I would be the person to get the virus and fail to fight it. I understand the fear that people, especially elderly folk, face when they have to go outside, and I understood how it would be dangerous for them to go shopping or do daily tasks. I feared that my parents would get sick; I empathized with those in the area that feared for their parent’s lives as well.

Do you have a message that you would like to add?

I think that part of the process is not just helping out but also moving others to create their own change as well. When we donated masks to elderly people, they were so thankful, and their response was always along the lines of “you really saved my life.” They said such uplifting words that made me feel warm inside. During times like these, it’s important to pass the love around and achieve a kinder future. Something I’ve learned is that kind words and deeds can make a person’s day, so I think it’s important to share happiness and joy.