A high school freshman in Texas has collected 12,000 masks, with the help of family, friends and her community, for local health workers who continue to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Valerie Xu, 15, of Addison, Texas, started raising money for masks for University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in March.
She told ABC News that the staff had treated her when she had a high-grade fever as a third grader and that she'd never forgotten the doctors and nurses' kindness toward her and her family.
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Xu said that in March she began raising money for masks on a crowdfunding site. Thanks to social media, the campaign was shared across the state and many donated. She raised nearly $3,000 and a local company matched it.
She was able to collect thousands of masks and she delivered them to UT Southwestern Medical Center on April 24. She said the effort had raised her awareness about the different essential workers in her community.
"It's not just doctors and nurses who are helping ... it's everyone," such as first responders and grocery store workers, she said. "It just taught me the importance of these people. ... They're sacrificing their health."
Xu, a student at the Greenhill School, told ABC News on Thursday that she'd started the campaign to get personal protective equipment for the hospital staff after learning about the desperate need across the U.S.
"There's been a growing need of PPE in local hospitals. ... Our family friend from Florida who was an ER doctor had to reuse the same mask for multiple weeks. ... This is like the first time in my lifetime that I've seen such a large crisis happen especially in a first-world country like the U.S. and it just showed me how much in need doctors and nurses are of PPE," she said.
Xu said, however, that she'd been motivated by a second, more personal reason.
"As an Asian American, I want to show that Asian Americans like me are willing to stand along with health workers in fighting the coronavirus. There's been a lot of stigma, biases against Asian Americans recently who are often targeted by xenophobic [attacks] and I just wanted to show Asian Americas are willing to help and we should use unity to fight this virus," she said.
She said she'd even witnessed some bias acts in her own community in the form of rhetoric or people keeping their distance from her in stores.
"It kind of hit me in the face. It's like no matter how much you try to be American, you try to fit in, your color will always define you in this country," she said. "It's extremely disheartening. ... I know there are a lot of good people in our community who want to help, who want to support."
Xu said that despite these bias acts, she still wanted to help and show her support as the world continues to fight the pandemic. And she said that when she dropped off the masks, the staff had shown its appreciation and gratitude.
"Hearing their stories, hearing their words, definitely made what I did feel, like, it definitely made it worth it," she said. "I think it also helped the Asian American community as a whole show that Asian Americans are willing to help and that doctors and nurses in our community are supportive of Asian Americans."