Minnesota International Chinese School

Minnesota International Chinese School members July 2020 – South View Middle School’s parking lot is eerily quiet these days – a side effect of Edina Public Schools’ move to digital learning in a semester defined by the COVID-19 pandemic. Memorial Day weekend proved a conspicuous exception, however. On that Sunday, a steady stream of cars queued up for Edina’s share of 10,000 complimentary face masks. This timely gift came courtesy of a Chinese-American coalition headed by the Edina-based Minnesota International Chinese School (MICS).

It wasn’t the school’s first PPE collection and distribution drive of the year. “MICS started our efforts in late January of this year, after learning about … the spread of COVID-19 [in and around Wuhan, China],” shared Principal Melody Zhou. 

As a first step, MICS opened a dialogue with the Minnesota Chinese American Chamber of Commerce and the Council for U.S.-China Medical Technology Exchange (CUCMT). The partners brainstormed ways to marshal the networks and resources at their disposal to help hard-hit Hubei Province.

“We knew that in rural areas, hospitals were especially lacking in supplies and equipment … and particularly in the oxygen generators needed for severe cases of COVID-19,” explained Justin Lipsky. Lipsky, a business consultant and Mandarin translator, joined with Zhou and a handful of other core volunteers to formulate a campaign they dubbed “In the Name of Love.”

They set out with an ambitious goal: to raise funds for, purchase wholesale and distribute 50-100 medical-grade generators, 1,000 infrared thermometers, and as many disposable face masks as possible. 

CUCMT established relationships with the appropriate manufacturers and in-need clinics outside of urban Wuhan. Meanwhile, “MICS handled administrative management of the funds and supplies throughout the fundraising period,” Zhou said.

Thanks to a groundswell of support from Edina and beyond, fundraising for In the Name of Funds spanned less than a month – from Feb. 19 to March 7. Over that short window, 118 individual and corporate donors contributed $37,475 to the cause. That amount enabled MICS’ partners to purchase and ship more than 50 oxygen concentrators to nearly two dozen hospitals and clinics in Hubei Province. 

ICU staff at several of those receiving facilities found time to take and share photos of this life-saving equipment in action. 

“When you’re dealing with something on the scale of COVID, it is easy to wonder ‘How much of an impact can I really have?’” Lipsky shared. Those snapshots made all the difference. “We may not be a government with billions of dollars at our disposal, but we can definitely and deeply impact lives.”  

As coronavirus case numbers stabilized in China, the Minnesota International Chinese School shifted In the Name of Love’s momentum stateside. They christened this second phase “Minnesota in Need.” 

During the months of March and April, MICS collected thousands more masks – some handmade, but most procured via bulk orders from Chinese suppliers or purchased through the generosity of Chinese American businesses. Organizers also acquired gloves and hand sanitizers en masse. 

Zhou, Lipsky and other volunteers then met at the Chinese American Chamber of Commerce in Bloomington to sort and redistribute this impressive stockpile. In all, five metro police departments, 11 Minnesota fire departments, and a handful of clinics and congregate living facilities benefited from this largesse. Edina Police Department, Edina Fire Department and a senior living facility on York Avenue all received a generous share. 

Eager to do more in their home community, MICS then announced the drive-by event outside South View Middle School. (The school is currently housed there, after having outgrown spaces at Valley View Middle School and Normandale Elementary.) 

In a nod to Memorial Day, organizers reserved the first half hour for veterans. Hundreds more masks then went to Edina families and businesses. This work on the back end guaranteed quantities and staggered arrivals – yet another logistical feat to their credit. 

Minnesota’s pandemic ordeal is not yet through … and neither is MICS. The school and their volunteer partners are still looking for organizations in need of specialized PPE. “One of the challenges is identifying and reaching places that need this equipment most,” Lipsky said. “If you’re a clinic or a senior living home in need, please get in touch with us.”

Email justin.lipsky@mnchinese.org for information on upcoming donor and volunteer opportunities or to submit a PPE request. For more information on the Minnesota International Chinese School more generally, visit its website or Facebook page

The Minnesota International Chinese School was presented the 2020 Mayor’s Service Organization Commendation by Mayor Jim Hovland.