The teen revealed that she was motivated to raise money for masks after encountering a racist incident first hand.
When Valerie Xu first heard of the drastic shortage of personal protective equipment in hospitals across the U.S., she knew she had to do everything in her power to help. The Texas teen's determination to ensure the safety of healthcare workers bore fruit last week when she donated over 11,000 masks to a local hospital. Having achieved the incredible feat, the 15-year-old hopes her gesture will in some way help dispel the bias and stigma faced by Asian Americans both in the country and abroad amid the novel Coronavirus outbreak.
Teen Donates 11K Masks to Hospital, Hopes to Dispel Bias Against Asian Americans amid Pandemic https://t.co/XgQEMICG28— People (@people) April 28, 2020
Speaking to PEOPLE, Xu revealed that she had no hesitations about jumping into action when the drastic shortage of PPE in hospitals across the U.S. came to her attention. "This is something that’s happening nationwide. Especially in a first world country like the U.S., these things should not be happening and I think as people in this country, we have a civic duty to try and help these [first responders] any way possible," she said. Determined to make a difference, the teen set up a fundraiser to raise money for masks. Xu's Masks Matter fundraising campaign raised enough money to purchase and donate 11,200 masks to UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas late last week.
"I’m just really happy that I’m able to make a difference and want to show that Asian Americans are with health workers and we want to unite," she said. The Addison teen revealed that the cause became deeply personal for her after a family friend—who works as an ER doctor in Florida—had to reuse the same mask for multiple weeks due to shortage. "Unfortunately, he is not the only doctor that has to do that... which just goes to show the urgent need," Xu explained. "In order for a community to fight this virus, medical workers need to be safely protected."
The teen revealed that another strong motivating factor was the rising cases of racist attacks against those of Asian descent—something she experienced firsthand. "I was in my neighborhood, just walking outside and I wasn’t even coughing or anything," Xu recalled. "This lady was walking a few feet away from me, and when she saw me, she immediately covered her entire mouth and pinched her nose. It was a shocker to me, especially since I’ve grown up in the U.S. It just made me realize that no matter how much I try to prove myself as an American, my skin color will always define me... [this] motivated me to speak out for my race and my community."
I wanted to share this beautiful message and art from @RicardoCavolo: #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus ['I am not a virus']. Please don't reduce yourself to racism and hate during a time when everyone could use some kindness ❤ pic.twitter.com/WyAimRYyF6— Sarah Murfitt (@sarah_murfitt) March 4, 2020
While Xu's Masks Matter GoFundMe campaign managed to raise $3,130 in just a few weeks—thanks to the kind donations of friends, family, and community members—a local Asian American-run business in Dallas played a huge role in helping the teen make such a big impact. The business matched all of her GoFundMe donations and Xu donated $1,240 from her personal savings, bringing the total amount raised to $7,500. The teen used the money to buy 10,000 surgical masks and 1,200 FFP2 masks — the European equivalent of N95s — from a vendor in China which her mother found through their family connections.
"I did not expect it to be this big. Our goal was to at least have 5,000 masks, but when we slowly saw it climb… [we decided to] increase the number of masks. It was definitely a surprise, but I’m just so thankful to everyone who helped spread the message and contributed to my campaign," Xu admitted. "It means a lot to me because I want to try and inspire a lot of other Asian American women like me. I just want to make a difference. I want to show others that Asian Americans are standing alongside health workers [and] are willing to help contribute."
A long foreseen shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) — including masks, N95 respirators, and gowns — is crippling health workers’ ability to respond to the #coronavirus pandemic in the United States. https://t.co/e2Y4oriMq0— Vox (@voxdotcom) March 24, 2020
"If there’s a need in your community, go for it. I think a lot of people, especially my age, feel like young people cannot make a difference [but] I feel like no matter how small a contribution, it still makes a difference and means something," the teen urged. "Even if it is only giving ten doctors masks... it symbolizes something to your community, and it still makes a difference in the hearts of essential workers. Just go ahead and do it because these small actions add up to a large action that can help our community as a whole."
The #COVID19 pandemic is a stressful time for many. However, racism & xenophobia should never be tolerated. Please help us raise awareness to put an end to the anti-Asian racism & discrimination associated with the coronavirus. Please share our artwork widely!— uoAsianLawStudents (@uoALSS) March 17, 2020
Art by @bxxpark pic.twitter.com/2WYBmh9ydj