Queensborough’s Chen rallies support in crisis

Published: April 06, 2020

Queensborough Community College’s Shirley Chen, Director of Resource Planning and Analytics, is leveraging her accounting profession and personal networks to mobilize local and international resources in the fight against COVID-19 and provide thousands of safety aids and supplies to New York and New Jersey professionals in need, daily.

Positioned in front of her home computer screen for hours upon hours, Chen coordinates a network of community volunteers, raising money and sourcing vital resources to deliver front-line healthcare aid around the clock to desperate metropolitan hospitals and first-responders, including police precincts and fire stations.

“I became involved in the search for supplies because my son, the supply chain manager at Flushing and Jamaica hospitals, asked me to help,” says Ms. Chen, a founder of QCC Chinese Academy, longtime contributor to the College’s annual Asian Cultural Festival, and supporter of the QCC Fund.

Shirley Chen and volunteers next to boxes of personal protective equipment

More than 100,000 pieces of personal protective equipment, from masks to gloves, have been sourced by Chen and the New York based Chinese American Alliance Volunteers, primarily from Chinese-based factories, which have ramped up production of medical supplies in the wake of the Wuhan outbreak and pandemic. The organization has also raised over $110,000 in less than two weeks.

“I made a plea on my social media to help the hospitals and then tons of people called me. Vendors and others wanted to make donations, so I started to help organize them and get supplies in. Other volunteers do the purchasing and shipping,” says the Chinese immigrant and mother of three adult children.

At least 100 hospitals and healthcare providers and facilities (including the United States Postal Service) in New York and New Jersey have received supplies (that meet FDA requirements) in recent weeks, according to Chen and CAA. (Follow them on Twitter.)

“We rely on the generosity and resources of an informal network of people in the area – and their transportation and warehouses -- who want to help during this critical time,” adds Chen, a graduate of LaGuardia Community College and Queens College.

 “Gowns, N95 masks, whatever we can get our hands on; people are eager and willing to do what it takes to deliver solutions. Nobody thought it would get this bad here.”

Coordinating donors, medical suppliers and other vendors as well as hospitals, Chen – from Fuzhou, Fujian Province, about 600 miles southeast of Wuhan – is often up until midnight every night responding to local and overseas inquiries.

“I reach out to people I know and others in my networks.  I love connecting and this has just spiraled. So many people want to be involved at this critical time,” she continues, adding that colleagues and friends at Queensborough have “always demonstrated what community service means.”

“I work with people with such good hearts,” the 20-year Queensborough staff member explains, “And I have grown so much since I started my career here.”

Chen says medical supply partners and receiving agencies have been generous, thoughtful and grateful but she discloses that it is hard, in some respects, to be Chinese or Chinese American in the midst of the growing epidemic.

The Centers for Disease Control notes that pandemics can lead to social stigma toward people, places, or things. There have been recent reports of people of Asian descent experiencing stigma because of COVID-19 even though the manner in which the virus is spread is universal and not limited to any one segment of society.

In an open letter to the Queensborough College community last month, President Dr. Timothy Lynch said, “There is no place for discrimination of any sort. All of us have a responsibility to stop any stigma related to COVID-19 by knowing the facts, sharing them, and communicating honestly and compassionately with each other.”

Chen says the demand for supplies is steady and that she will continue volunteering, no matter what.

“Some people think we are the virus. It can be very difficult. All we want is to help. And we will.”


Contact:  Michael Donahue or Alice Doyle

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