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More than 400 masks donated to police department by Spokane Chinese community

Ping Ping, left, and her husband Daunning Zhou, center, shows some of the donated medical masks to Spokane Police Capt. Tracy Meidl, right, outside the Public Safety Building. Ping and other Chinese community members, donated the masks after local Chinese residents gathered up extra protective masks to donate to first responders. Ping and her friends are also waiting for more shipments to arrive so they can donate more. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The president of the Spokane Chinese Association, Ping Ping, is a bubbly college instructor who loves to bring people together.

On Monday, Ping did just that by gathering and donating more than 400 masks to the Spokane Police Department.

When the COVID-19 outbreak started late last year in the Wuhan province of China, Ping was planning a Lunar New Year celebration.

But as reports of the virus spread, Ping and the association’s board started to rethink holding their planned celebration at University High School in Spokane Valley. On Jan 25, the association canceled the event.

“We want to express our condolences to the Wuhan people. It’s not the new year atmosphere anyway – it’s kind of sad,” said Ping, a sociology instructor at Spokane Falls Community College.

Rumblings were starting in the Chinese community in Spokane. People were buying masks and sending them home to China, reading the news and preparing for what could happen if the virus spread to the U.S.

Wearing face masks is common when you are sick in China, Ping explained. It helps prevent you from spreading illness, but also to prevent you from catching germs, Ping said. The practice is encouraged by the Chinese government.

As the outbreak became a pandemic and spread to nearly every country across the globe, Ping said the Chinese community in Spokane decided they wanted to help in anyway they could.

“Helping the community is helping ourselves too,” Ping said.

Initially, Ping helped people who needed masks get them from community members. Over 600 masks made it to people in need through Ping.

Then as schools, restaurants and businesses were ordered closed, Ping said she decided to help first responders, whose jobs are essential.

We “really want to donate these items to our local community, to the people, firefighters, policemen, bus drivers – so then when they have to be exposed to the public they have something to protect themselves,” Ping said.

When others heard what Ping was doing, they donated money. Now, thousands of masks have been ordered by Ping and fellow community member Ning Li with more than $6,000 donated. Ping said she hopes to be able to donate more masks to medical workers and first responders.

Police Capt. Tracie Meidl said the donation Monday came in the department’s time of need.

“Our supply actually is running really low right now,” Meidl said. “So this couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for us.”

While police are trying to do more business over the phone and contact citizens outside to continue social distancing, that is not always possible.

Meidl asked that anyone who needs police assistance while experiencing flu-like symptoms to let the 911 operator know.

Meidl also noted that the donation comes from a group that has recently seen an increase in discrimination related to the coronavirus.

“We have a community that some people may be looking at in extreme caution, and this community comes to us and brings gifts,” Meidl said. “That just says a lot for the people behind these donations.”

While Ping said she hasn’t been discriminated against herself because of COVID-19, others in her community have seen a change in how they are treated.

One of Ping’s students shared that while riding the bus one day a man asked the student if she was Japanese. When the student replied that she was Chinese, the man became “very unfriendly,” Ping said.

Ping said that even during this difficult time she sees her community coming together.

One woman, who lives in Spokane but has family members from the Wuhan area who have contracted the virus, donated 250 of the masks to the police department.

While the woman didn’t want to be identified she sent a note for Ping to share.

“The world itself is a big family. We should not say you and me, they and us,” the woman wrote. “When the world is having difficulty, it should be all people working together to overcome this.”