MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Middlebury College Physician Mark Peluso received a welcome delivery on April 15–a donation of 10,000 surgical masks from 79 families of Chinese students who attend Middlebury.
When Peluso first learned about the donation in early April, his reaction was one of gratitude. “I thought, how considerate, how kind of people so far away dealing with their own COVID-19 challenges in China to think of us here in Middlebury,” he said.
Middlebury will keep 6,000 of the masks to meet immediate and possible future needs on campus. The College will donate the remaining 4,000 to help with the safety efforts of local long-term care facilities, fire fighters, law enforcement, and organizations that support the homeless and mentally ill. College health officials approached Porter Medical Center first, but staff there reported that they currently have a sufficient supply of surgical masks.
“When the virus hit the U.S., especially the Northeast, many parents became really anxious and concerned,” said Kathleen Chen, one of the parents who led the effort to donate the masks and whose daughter Emily Bian is a junior. Chen recalled that as things worsened, and one college after another sent its students home, some international students had to find a place to stay with very short notice. According to her, most parents were relieved when they learned about the support that international students at Middlebury had received following the announcement that students must leave.
Once students were back in China, Chen said their parents also developed an appreciation for the faculty’s work on the transition to remote teaching. According to her, multiple parents were impressed that professors had recognized that students were in different time zones, with some professors giving the same lectures two or three times to accommodate students.
One parent told Chen that a faculty member had asked for students’ WeChat accounts so he could communicate with them while they are in China. Another provided hand sanitizer to a student for her trip back to China, and then tracked the student all the way home until she had arrived safely.
As parents were sharing similar stories, one suggested that they all do something to support Middlebury. In early April, Chen contacted Dana Barrow, associate director of parent giving.
Chen said she knew that PPE was in great demand in the U.S. and there was a plentiful supply in China, but that it’s difficult to ship to the U.S. due to the very limited number of flights between the two countries. She turned to a friend in the PPE business who was kind enough to sell her masks at cost after learning it was a donation. The shipment arrived in New York and was then transported to campus.
“Especially in this time of isolation, it is wonderful to feel such a close connection to Middlebury families around the world,” said Barrow. “The message the parents wrote on the boxes containing the masks says it all: ‘We are one big family.’”