Donning protective face masks, Yingying Chen, M.S. ’11, associate director of recruitment for graduate admissions, and graduate student Bernadine Mavhungu ’14 packed boxes of donated goggles and bodysuits at Clark University and drove them 15 minutes down the road to the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center.
Within the next few weeks, they plan to drop off an additional 1,000 face masks, once they arrive from China.
The donations are part of a global effort among Clark staff, faculty, students, alumni, and their families to purchase personal protective equipment and donate it to medical centers in need. The initiative started with several fundraising efforts at Clark in early January after the COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan, China. The focus has since shifted to the United States as the pandemic spread.
“For me, it was a really personal thing,” Chen says. “I’m from China, from Hubei, and I wanted to help the people there. We have a strong connection with our students from China, so faculty and staff responded very quickly.”
Initially, there were two separate fundraisers at Clark — one organized by Chen and another organized by graduate student Haifeng Sun, who worked with Laura Burgess, assistant dean of the School of Management, to raise money to purchase supplies for China. Their efforts merged organically in February, with Chen using her connections in Hubei to ship gear to a hospital in the city of Jingzhou, which was in dire need.
At the end of February, Chen went on a business trip. When she returned, she found several pairs of goggles sitting in her office. She says she was surprised that people were still dropping off donations, as the outbreak was subsiding in China and beginning to hit the United States.
“Things were going better in China and we were in need here, so we decided to give whatever we had left to the community here,” Chen says.
Meanwhile, several Clark alumni, family, friends, and University partners in China saw from social media that the U.S. needed supplies and began ordering masks. Chen reached out to her colleague Jill Zhang, who’s based in Beijing, to arrange for the donations to be collected and shipped to Worcester.
The decision to donate the equipment to the Kennedy Health Center was made thanks to Clark’s vast and involved alumni network.
Mavhungu, who used to work in the health center’s marketing and advancement department, was scrolling through Facebook a few weeks ago when she saw a post from the center asking for donations. She kept scrolling and a few seconds later, a post popped up from Amy Daly Gardner, Clark’s associate dean of international programs, who was expressing gratitude for all the Chinese students and alumni sending face masks to the Clark community.
Mavhungu immediately reached out to Gardner and asked whether the Clarkies would be willing to donate the supplies to the Kennedy Health Center. As a former employee, she knew firsthand how important its work is.
“They serve everybody, but they also serve the most vulnerable populations, particularly those who live in public housing in the Great Brook Valley area,” Mavhungu says. “Those vulnerable people who often fall through the cracks in the health care system — the Kennedy Health Center takes care of them.”
Gardner put Mavhungu and Chen in touch with each other, and the two coordinated this week’s drop-off. They plan to bring more supplies to the center as they arrive, and are using monetary donations to purchase additional equipment.
“It’s all very Clark-centric,” Mavhungu says. “There’s a need, and you want to get the supplies where they’re most needed. Clarkies are so quick to jump in for each other.”