The Tzu Chi Foundation, a Taiwanese humanitarian organization, is providing 4,000 medical grade face masks to Island frontline workers.
It all started when Caroline Reeves moved to her seasonal home in Chilmark, where she has spent many fun-filled summers, and her family has come to call their second home.
“My sons have been coming here basically since they were born. The Vineyard for us is the most amazing place,” Reeves said.
In January, Reeves and her family were planning on leaving their Boston home to come to the Vineyard, but they were intent on taking every precaution they possibly could in order to not burden the Island further.
They bought all their food and supplies off-Island before coming on the boat, then they self-quarantined for the necessary amount of time. Not only did the family want to avoid putting additional strain on the Island, they wanted to help in any way they could.
The family saw an advertisement in the newspaper that the town of Chilmark was looking for volunteers to help go shopping for the elderly and infirm, and deliver personal protective equipment to those in need.
Reeves’ two sons, Andrew and Daniel Lee, ages 16 and 19, immediately jumped at the opportunity to help.
“The boys had a lot of time on their hands, and they wanted to help out. They do everything together, so my older son, Daniel, drove around doing grocery runs, and my younger son Andrew was the navigator and coordinator,” Reeves said. “It was so nice to see them getting out together before fishing season starts.”
After a few weeks of volunteering, the two brothers were at home with Reeves while she was on a Zoom call.
Reeves is a scholar and researcher at Harvard University in the field of Chinese charities and benevolent organizations. She was chatting with a head of the Tzu Chi Foundation over Zoom, whom she corresponded with regularly after going to a presentation for a Chinese charity in the fall.
“We were talking about writing something together or collaborating on a project when he said that Tzu Chi has a Boston headquarters, and asked if I had any suggestions on communities that need assistance,” Reeves said.
Her two sons immediately chimed in and suggested a donation to the Vineyard.
“I immediately told him about the Vineyard community, and he said the organization would be happy to help.”
Reeves was put in touch with Vickie Chang of the Tzu Chi Foundation, who told The Times she was more than happy to help coordinate a mask donation.
“We try our best to meet people’s needs,” Chang said. “In the beginning of March, when the world started to feel the impact of this pandemic even more, we started getting donations from many of our members for surgical masks. We started donating to hospitals like Brigham and Women’s and the Boston Medical Center.”
Chang said the organization has donated more than one million masks to frontline workers all over the East Coast, and over 100,000 pieces of protective equipment have been donated in Massachusetts alone.
“A lot of places are very short of inventory, and we want to make sure everyone feels safe and prepared,” Chang said. “We connected so closely with the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, we are both Island communities, and such beautiful places. Once things get better, some of us from the organization want to come and visit.”
After coordinating with the Tzu Chi Foundation, the logistics of how to get the masks from their Boston headquarters into the hands of Islanders was a whole new hurdle to jump.
But the close-knit nature of the Island made it easy for the Lee boys to begin coordinating a pick up and drop off effort.
They got in touch with Delilah Meegan, one of the volunteer coordinators in Chilmark, and she suggested that the family reach out to Maddie Lopes, the founder of the volunteer Facebook page Islanders Help.
“Maddie absolutely ran with it, she was so incredible. She filled out the Google application form to the Tzu Chi Foundation noting who needs the masks, how many people there are, and where the masks need to go,” Reeves said.
Lopes also spoke with Greg Carroll of Carroll’s Trucking, who agreed to pick up the masks from the Boston headquarters and bring them back to the Island. After seamless networking and collaboration between members of the public, the community initiative came together without a hitch.
“These masks have come from an island that is so far away from this Island, and it took so much love from so many people to get them here. This is what a real community looks like, this is what a real community does,” Reeves said.
Lopes told The Times the initiative all started out with an idea that rapidly grew into reality.
“We first heard about this through Delilah, and Caroline put me in contact with the Boston headquarters. About two weeks went by, then they emailed me and said they can send 4,000 masks,” Lopes said. “I thought, wow that is amazing, but how do we get them here?”
After confirming the pickup with Carroll’s Trucking, the final step of the donation effort had been solidified.
The masks are expected to arrive late Monday or Tuesday morning, and will be provided by volunteer deliverers to the hospital, EMT’s, grocery stores, liquor stores, the Visiting Nurses Association, the Steamship Authority, the Vineyard Transit Authority, and others.
The Lee boys, Kristen Araujo, and other volunteers will help deliver the masks on-Island
“It was just amazing to see it all come together,” Lopes said. “Sometimes you feel so small and like you can’t make a big difference. But when everyone works with each other, it’s a group effort that can really help people.”