Health and Medicine

International students and families donate masks to UNC Hospitals

A group of parents of international undergraduate and graduate students, as well as parents of Carolina alumni, are donating nearly 100,000 masks to support North Carolina's health care workers.

Five students wearing masks stand near boxes of medical masks.
Masks donated by the parents of international students were delivered to Chapel Hill last week and taken to UNC Hospitals by students. (Photo by Henry Okoth)

With health care workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 facing a shortage of personal protection equipment, a group of Carolina’s international students and their parents are working together to donate thousands of masks to UNC Hospitals.

As the novel coronavirus began to spread throughout the United States, some international students’ parents living in China wanted to find a way to help their children, who were so far away in Chapel Hill.

“As students, we couldn’t go back to China because a lot of airlines reduced their flights, and a lot of our parents were very worried about us,” said Summer Guo, a second-year student at the UNC School of Law.

Knowing that there was a shortage of PPE throughout the country, Guo’s mother and other parents of Carolina students decided to organize a donation of masks that could support the UNC Hospitals staff.

“Our parents had witnessed the hospitals in China experience the same issue,” said Sing-Wai Wong, a resident at the Adams School of Dentistry. “So, they decided to donate masks, which were in high demand.”

The group of donors included parents of international undergraduate and graduate students, as well as parents of Carolina alumni. In total, almost 200 parents chipped-in for the donation.

Communicating and organizing mostly through social media, the group began by raising money to fund the production of the masks and searching for a factory in China to produce them.

The parents, led in part by Guo’s mother, contacted and visited various factories throughout China to see how many masks they could produce and if they were suitable for medical use. After finding the right factory, the parents were able to have close to 100,000 masks produced.

The group’s first shipment of about 40,000 masks arrived in Chapel Hill last week. The students received the masks and took them to UNC Hospitals themselves. Subsequent shipments of the remaining masks will arrive over the next few weeks.

For Wong, the donation is a way to express the gratitude international students and their parents feel toward the health care workers in Chapel Hill.

“They are on the frontlines of this battle with COVID-19,” he said. “We really want our health care heroes to be protected.”

And for their parents, the donation is a symbol of hope for the Carolina community.

“In China, everything is beginning to return to normal. Our parents are sending the masks because they also want the U.S. to beat COVID-19,” Wong said. “The Chinese parents are sending their hope to the United States and the UNC community.”