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“See the Need, Fill the Gap”

Interviewing Mrs. Tingmei Chau, coordinator of the MCPS mask drive

Written by CAPA-JRC Reporter Rachel Wang

On April 27, CAPA-JRC reporter Rachel Wang interviewed Mrs. Tingmei Chau, one of the lead organizers of a grassroots mask drive for Montgomery County Public Schools.

The drive began collecting donations April 10 as a grassroots community effort. The organization operates on three levels: suppliers, coordinators, and MCPS workers. After masks are supplied by community members, a few core members of CAPA are in charge of transiting the supplies to MCPS workers. In this sense, CAPA serves as the connector between MCPS and community donors.

The mask donations will be prioritized to be given to MCPS frontline workers, including drivers, food preparers, food deliverers, security guards, and front desk workers. These frontline workers make up several thousand of MCPS’s 20,000 total workers and currently experience the most face-to-face interaction in their line of work.

The mask donations do not have rigid qualifications, but they do need to be preventative. While masks can be donated to CAPA coordinators like Mrs. Chau, monetary donations can also be issued directly to the MCPS Education Foundation or be used to fund PPE supplies.

Mrs. Chau is the current president of CAPA-MC, the Chinese American Parent Association of Montgomery County. As an active community service member and parent, Mrs. Chau became inspired by the relief efforts of other community members.

“The idea for the MCPS mask donation organization came from the results and experiences of the other groups in the community,” said Mrs. Chau. “Once the hospital and healthcare [frontline] groups were stabilized, the community was able to think about the efforts for MCPS.”

“I think that MCPS is a very critical infrastructure for the society and the community to operate well,” said Mrs. Chau. “Knowing that there are a lot of small grassroots efforts going on simultaneously, we do what we can as a local organization to focus on MCPS education. [Our objective is] to protect our educators and help them out during this difficult time.”

MCPS currently still has many staff members in action, with drivers and food deliverers working to distribute food to needy families, working staff in MCPS’s essential office, and teachers that may interact with other community members while purchasing essential needs.

Currently, the supply of preventative materials, (such as masks,) is low due to skyrocketing demand. “In the long term when it’s possible, the school system will definitely provide sufficient protection for those frontline workers. I have no doubt about their priorities,” said Mrs. Chau. “That’s why MCPS has reached out to [CAPA] for procurement of these materials.”

After the donation efforts began to take fruit, the drive began to receive positive feedback from the community. “The people were very appreciative of what our community offers. I think any kind of donation that people are making [brings about a lot of] positive coverage,” said Mrs. Chau.

Although the drive has been successful in its collection efforts, it still faces the restrictions of being a grassroots organization. “There’s a liability issue. With donations, we have to be responsible for how we use them by tracking every single thing. [Large-scale donations] would be too big a project for a grassroot organization to handle,” explained Mrs. Chau.

Since these grassroots organizations face limitations, they typically focus on more particular needs in the community. While CAPA’s directed mask drive centers on helping MCPS workers, other community efforts aid police officers, senior citizens, or students. “See the need, fill the gap,” said Mrs. Chau. “We wish that we have the capability to be more helpful on a [larger scale], but sometimes we just have to do what we can. We’re all learning how to help out.”

As for the organization’s goals for the future, Mrs. Chau believes that MCPS will gradually be able to take over for supplying efforts. “What I [think] is that MCPS will be able to procure more resources in the future, once resources become more stabilized,” she said. “Then, the donation part of procurement will not be as critical as when the emergency first happened.”

While people from all over the community take on different efforts to pitch in, they are all united in one aspect: initiative. “The crisis brought out the best in people. The Chinese American community in particular is growing to be a big contributor in this crisis,” said Mrs. Chau.

“If you told me ten years ago that the Chinese American community is capable of doing these kinds of charity -- helping out, philanthropy, executing grassroots -- I wouldn’t believe it. But now, seeing all those things come into play is impressive. and really gives me a lot of hope for the future of America.”

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