More surgical masks donated to community, via WCU-based group

The American Chinese Friendship Society of Western North Carolina has helped provide about 15,000 surgical masks for 18 counties in WNC. Photographed here are from left to right: Yue Cai Hillon, Yiqing Yang, Hongyun “Vivian” Shen and Yanjun Yan.

Some 15,000 much-needed surgical masks are now available for health care providers across the 18 counties of Western North Carolina, thanks to big efforts by a small group centered at Western Carolina University.

“This has been quite an adventure for a team without much international logistics experience in medical equipment,” said Yue Cai Hillon, on behalf of the American Chinese Friendship Society of Western North Carolina. “However, with encouragement and support of many community partners, like the Western Carolina Medical Society and WCU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, we persevered.”
The society was created last year by WCU faculty, including Will Lehman, an associate professor of German, to spread awareness about Chinese culture and help foster relationships and understanding of a close-knit community here in this region. But as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated and local clinics, medical offices and assisted living facilities were left with limited personal protection equipment, the group shifted to more humanitarian efforts.
Hongyun Shen, a student in the Master of Accountancy Program, located a surgical mask distributor in China, made contact and secured an order, while Hillon, professor of management, along with Yangyun Yan, an associate professor in the College of Engineering and Technology, and Yiqing Yang, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology Department, provided immediate funding.

Jeremy Ward, IT director at Hot Springs Health Programs.

An initial shipment of 6,000 masks was received and distributed in March. As news spread, donations flowed in and allowed the group to make additional orders.

A second order of 4,000 masks was distributed in April. A third and final order of 5,500 masks has been placed and is expected soon.
“We are so appreciative of the donated masks from Western Carolina Medical Society and Western Carolina University,” said a grateful Teresa Strom, CEO of Hot Springs Health Programs in Madison County. “This donation will enable us to continue to care for our patients.”
Surgical masks are intended to provide broad barrier protection, according to current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making use an essential element for health care workers and those dealing with at-risk populations and recommended for everyone in a public setting.
“Our Western North Carolina medical providers and other individuals providing essential services in our community are doing so while putting their own health and lives at risk,” said Miriam Schwarz, CEO of the Western Carolina Medical Society, headquartered in Asheville. “Providing them with the personal protective equipment they need to feel safe and minimize that risk is absolutely critical right now. Since there are supply shortages and limited funds available for many of them to secure this equipment themselves, we are partnering with several others in this regional effort to be resourceful.”
Some of the frontline recipients include:
Emergency Medical Services
* Jackson County EMS
* Haywood County EMS
* Henderson County EMS
* Transylvania County EMS
Hospitals, Community Caregivers
  • Harris Regional Hospital
  • Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry
  • Mountain Community Health Partnership
  • Appalachian Mountain Community Health Centers
  • Mission Health Partners
  • Blue Ridge Community Health Services
  • Smoky Mountain Medical Society
  • Hot Springs Health Programs
Assisted Care, Senior Living Facilities
  • Autumn Care Nursing Home
  • Battery Park Senior Apartments
  • Asheville Terrace Senior Apartments
  • Vanderbilt Senior Apartments
  • Skyland Care Center
  • The Hermitage
Doctors, Dentists
  • Dr. David McGuire General Dentistry
  • Clinic of Dr. Clifford H. Mault
  • Digestive Health Partners
The American Chinese Friendship Society of WNC is made up of WCU faculty members, staff and students, as well as neighboring residents, but is independent of the university. “We are truly just a member of the WCU community and global citizens in this world,” Yan said. “United we prevail, divided we perish.”
In North Carolina, more than 17,000 people had tested positive for the coronavirus and 661 people had died as of Friday, May 15, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Large scale tragedies tend to bring out both the best and the worst in humanity, and unfortunately some people have exploited the current pandemic to spread hateful and incendiary messages about Asian Americans for their own political gain,” said Lehman. “As an American, I find this utterly appalling, yet I firmly believe that mutual trust and respect will be eventually achieved as each ounce of blind intolerance is answered with a pound of loving kindness.”
For more information, contact Hillon at ycai@wcu.edu.