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US cities send supplies to sister cities to battle virus

By LIU YINMENG in Los Angeles | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-19 00:06
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A number of American cities with sister-city relationships with China have mobilized local communities to help China battle the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's sister-city relationship with Wuhan began nearly four decades ago. So when the Hubei province capital was hit by the virus outbreak, city residents rushed to send aid.

"This was extra close to home," said Sarah Boal, assistant vice-president for Disaster Response and Strategic Initiatives at Brother's Brother Foundation (BBF), a Pittsburgh-based international charity that promotes health and education initiatives.

"Because the cities have had such a good and long relationship, it just seems like not only was it a global health emergency, but it was friends of our city who are hurting and who are most affected. The whole city has really come together to reach out and try to help," she added.

As part of a coordinated effort that began in late January, BBF, along with the Pittsburgh mayor's office, the Office of the County Executive, Sisters Cities, the Chinese community in Pittsburgh as well as local corporations have been working to organize donations and send medical equipment to Wuhan and other regions in China.

The first shipment of 180,000 surgical masks from BFF boarded an Air China cargo flight from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on Feb 13. The gear cleared customs in Shanghai on Friday and was expected to arrived at Wuhan Science Technology University Hospital by Monday, Boal said.

BBF is now preparing to send a second round of shipments, which is larger than the first and includes protective suits as well as surgical masks. Boal said the team is communicating with its on-ground partners to figure out what resources that hospitals in China need.

"We've been working with so many people here in Pittsburgh who have reached out, have called us. We've gotten a very warm response, particularly from corporations who have worked both here and in Wuhan," she said.

She praised Idea Foundry, an economic development agency in Pittsburgh, as a supportive partner.

Students and staff at the Asian studies program at the University of Pittsburgh are helping to collect N-95 masks, which will be shipped through the BBF, she said.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto wrote a letter to Wuhan's mayor on Jan 27 offering his assistance and also announced that day that the city is planning a care package for Wuhan.

"We have also reached out to UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) and to the Allegheny Health Network about aiding and assisting. I think over the next two days we should be able to have a care package that has been put together," Peduto told local media outlet TribLIVE.

Several Chinese organizations helped BBF with customs, logistics and coordination with Chinese officials. They also have set up an online fundraising campaign that had raised nearly $60,000 in less than a month. The money will be used to buy medical supplies and ship them to Wuhan, the organizers said on the GoFundMe page.

"We always talk about Pittsburgh looking out for their neighbors, because it's the legacy of Mr. Rogers, but it's always nice to see when that becomes a reality, and when people pull together to help their neighbors next door and around the world," Boal said, in reference to the late American television personality, Fred Rogers, who was a native of Pittsburgh.

Elsewhere around the US, Ron Chow, co-chairman of the Washington State Panda Foundation, foundation President David Chong and other foundation members contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Tacoma, Washington, city government, a sister city to Fuzhou and a friendship city with Mianyang, for their assistance.

Tacoma has gathered 15,000 face masks and raised around $10,000, which will be used to buy more masks and pay for shipping. 

Chow learned of the epidemic when he was in Germany on a business trip. The first thing he did when he returned to Washington state was to contact anyone he could to help his friends in China.    

"We experienced that the Chinese and American governments hope to fight the epidemic together," Chow said. 

The city of Riverside, California, which is a sister city with Jiangmen, called for the help of local physicians and medical groups to donate face masks.

"Supplies of medical face masks have rapidly diminished in Jiangmen since the outbreak of Coronavirus in Wuhan, about 700 miles away. Jiangmen has sent a team of doctors and medical personnel to help with Coronavirus patients since the outbreak at the end of last year," read a statement posted Feb 11 on the Riverside website. The deadline for donations is Feb 21.

Officials in Dubuque, Iowa, are looking to help their sister city of Handan, a major transportation hub between Beijing and Wuhan.

Dick Landis, former chairman of Dubuque's Sister City Relationships Advisory Commission, told KWWL that it received an email from Handan officials asking for medical supplies. The city contacted medical supply companies in town and is also looking for ways to send aid to Handan.

Toledo, Ohio, which has two sister cities in China — Qinhuangdao and Nanchong — is helping to send face masks and protective gloves to the two regions through a fundraiser organized by Toledo Sister Cities International and backed by the Toledo City Council.

"We not only want to have our sister cities share cultural differences with us, we need to be there for one another when they're in need. This is why I wanted to author a resolution asking the citizens of the city of Toledo, our healthcare agencies and others to chip in and try and meet that goal of $10,000 per city, so that we can help our sister cities out," council member Gary Johnson told NBC24 News.

In a statement posted on Jan 31, Sister Cities International said it's closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and encouraged its members to contact their local communities for relief efforts.

"At the core of SCI's mission is the important role that people-to-people and community-to-community diplomacy can play at the local level as well as abroad.  Taking the time to be involved in community efforts, offering support to our global neighbors and cooperating when others are in need are at the center of SCI's values," the statement said.

China and the US have 277 pairs of sister-city relationships at different levels such as sister counties, ports and schools, according to Sister Cities International (SCI).

Linda Deng in Seattle contributed to this story.

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