McCallie students' families in China donate much-needed supplies to Chattanooga hospitals to fight COVID-19

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / McCallie School Headmaster Lee burns, left, and McCallie seniors Jaden Long, center, and Derek Fu, right, both McCallie students from Shanghai, China, put on medical gloves at Parkridge Medical Center's main campus located at 2333 McCallie Ave. before donating over 2,000 face masks and n95 masks to the hospital on Friday, April 10, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The masks were donated by families of students from China who attend McCallie School.

More than 30 families in China are hoping to show Chattanoogans that "we're all in this together" when fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The parents and families of current, former and future McCallie School students shipped thousands of items of personal protective equipment for donation last week to Parkridge Health System. The equipment, which included surgical masks, N95 respirators and safety goggles, is in huge demand and supplies are limited amid the outbreak in the United States.

In China, where the tide has begun to turn and restrictions are loosening as the virus dies down, many of these supplies are readily available.

"When the outbreak first began, there was shortage of supplies in China like in the U.S., and people were ordering supplies and shipping them back to China," said Jaden Long, a senior at McCallie. Long, who has attended the all-boys boarding school for four years, is originally from Shanghai, China, where his family still lives. "Because China is so good at producing consumer products, many factories turned themselves into those suppliers, so then there really wasn't a shortage in China anymore."

Long and his classmate, Derek Fu, also from Shanghai, are among about 20 international boarding students who are still living on McCallie's campus. The school shut down and moved classes online last month, like many K-12 schools, colleges and universities, but for some students that wasn't an option.

"Back in January or February, the most serious time in China, the outbreak peaked. Some of us were planning to go back home for whatever reasons, but because of the coronavirus everything [was] canceled," Fu said. "Later in March and April, with the disease spreading in the States and many schools turn[ing] to virtual classes, other schools were forcing students to go back home, including international students."

Because of travel restrictions to China implemented out of fear and efforts to stop the spread of the virus, Chinese students were stuck.

"Thankfully, McCallie provided us a space and promised we could still stay on campus," Fu said.

As the pandemic slowed in China, the students switched from being worried about their families to their families being worried about them.

"Some of us were starting to become nervous when China was restricting travel and then parents were nervous as well," Fu said. "I'm not going to lie, they couldn't sleep well."

When parents of the stranded students heard of the shortage of supplies in Chattanooga, they decided they could show their gratitude to McCallie and the community by gathering these "gifts," Long said, and they coordinated an effort among the families of McCallie students across China to secure the supplies.

"Because we are all very grateful for this situation, our parents wanted to help the faculty and the neighborhood and the community around us, so they started this initiative," Fu said.

Last week's donation is only the beginning of the effort, the students and McCallie staff said.

The Chinese Student Family Association has shipped another 5,500 face masks, including 500 specialty masks for children, as well as more safety goggles and face shields, set to arrive on campus soon.

"These masks will help our community stay safer and healthy," reads a statement from Bess Steverson, director of development for special initiatives at McCallie. "We have built a strong, supportive relationship with our Chinese parents, and this act of kindness is an indication of the love and affection they have for the school their sons have chosen to attend."

The next shipment, especially the children's masks, will be distributed to McCallie faculty member and their families who live on campus, and to local hospitals as well.

Steverson said the school started developing a relationship with Parkridge last fall, so the hospital - just a couple of blocks away from McCallie's campus - was the first stop, but they will share donations with other area health care providers as well.

"It is an honor and privilege to provide care to our communities, and in this unprecedented and challenging time for our country, it's also comforting to know we have neighbors like McCallie willing to help provide support to our colleagues on the front line of patient care," said Tom Ozburn, president and CEO of Parkridge, in a statement. "It is hard to express how grateful Parkridge Health Systems is for this thoughtful donation from McCallie School families for the continued protection and safety of our patients and colleagues,"

Fu and Long are continuing to live on campus and are taking their courses online like the rest of their classmates. As seniors they are starting to think beyond this spring. Fu is worried about the graduation ceremony and hoping for a visit to Shanghai to see his family for the first time since Christmas, as soon as travel restrictions are ended.

Long said he isn't worried about staying in Chattanooga.

"I hope this thing will turn out well and everyone will be safe and unharmed," he said.

Long also hopes the donations show people that communities need to come together during the pandemic - and that their parents don't need to worry about them.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at [email protected] or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.