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Alumni and Friends

A Global Approach

A volunteer group run by NC State alumni is helping get protective masks to people in developing countries.

A woman stands in a parking lot wearing a face mask and carrying packages
Liu mailing supplies to New York and New Jersey.

As the new coronavirus spread through her native China and hospital protective gear got harder to come by, Xingcen “Xena” Liu ’18 put out an urgent online appeal for help, eventually raising $5,365 to bolster their supply.

Grateful Chinese families quickly repaid the favor, working with Liu to collect more than $10,000 in material donations and $3,400 in cash as the pandemic zeroed in on the U.S. The gifts enabled Liu to deliver 10,155 masks to 56 hospitals in 10 states in less than two weeks.

Now, the part-time veterinary technician and some friends from NC State and overseas are mounting an international relief effort out of Liu’s apartment in Los Angeles, Calif. Borderless Allies is an all-volunteer effort with an ambitious aim: To deliver 100,000 face masks in 10 developing countries.

The need is urgent, says Liu, 25. In developing nations, face masks are too costly for many families to afford. And that puts everyone at increased risk for COVID-19.

“The poorer you are, the more you need to go out — a lockdown means they have no income and their families will starve,” she says. “What we’re trying to do is partner with local nonprofits and churches that are already doing relief work. They put a mask or two in care packages they send out so families have [protection] they can use.”

The strategy is intentional. Many U.S. organizations only accept large donations, according to Liu, and few, if any, groups are addressing this need in third-world nations. So Borderless Allies supplies its partners with 200 or 300 masks with an eye to helping as many individuals as possible. It also provides small grants to help feed needy families.

Organizers have applied for nonprofit status and already have partners in Mexico, Sri Lanka, Colombia, China and Taiwan, Liu says. The 17 volunteers — who hail from five states and two continents — come together regularly on Zoom to keep operations humming. Eleven are NC State graduates.

One of them is Joann Ma ’17 of Durham, N.C., who is donating her strategic planning skills. One of Liu’s sisters in Kappa Phi Lambda sorority, Ma was already stretched with a full-time job at Lenovo and volunteer roles on two national nonprofit boards. But Liu’s passion and her mission were contagious.

“This is just one of the many, many ways that Xena has made an impact in the community,” Ma says, recalling Liu’s work as president of the Asian Students Association at NC State. “She’s the definition of a leader who sees a problem in the community and goes right at it.”

Though Borderless Allies has a global mission, its local ties remain close to heart. Before NC State moved to online courses and remote work for most employees earlier this year, the group sent protective gear to several student groups for distribution on campus. One held a Valentine’s Day bake sale that raised $350 to buy more, Liu says.

The charity expects to enlist the help of student groups as it grows, its leaders say. For now, volunteers are working to build awareness through Facebook and Instagram and seeking donations through their website.

“We’re taking it one mask at a time, one family at a time, one dollar at a time,” Ma says.

This post was originally published by the NC State Alumni Association.

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