The American Chinese Friendship Society of Western North Carolina has helped provide about 15,000 surgical masks for 18 counties in Western North Carolina. Pictured are, from left: Yue Cai Hillon, Yiqing Yang, Hongyun “Vivian” Shen and Yanjun Yan.

Some 15,000 surgical masks are now available for health care providers across 18 Western North Carolina counties thanks to efforts by a small group centered at Western Carolina University.

“This has been quite an adventure for a team without much international logistics experience in medical equipment,” said Yue Cai Hillon, on behalf of the American Chinese Friendship Society of Western North Carolina. “However, with encouragement and support of many community partners, like the Western Carolina Medical Society and WCU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, we persevered.”

The society was created last year by WCU faculty, including Will Lehman, an associate professor of German, to spread awareness about Chinese culture and foster relationships and understanding of a close-knit community in the region. But as COVID-19 escalated and local clinics, medical offices and assisted living facilities were left with limited personal protection equipment, the group shifted to  humanitarian efforts.

Hongyun Shen, a student in the Master of Accountancy Program, located a surgical mask distributor in China, made contact and secured an order, while Hillon, professor of management, along with Yangyun Yan, an associate professor in the College of Engineering and Technology, and Yiqing Yang, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, provided immediate funding.

An initial shipment of 6,000 masks was received and distributed in March. As news spread, donations flowed in and allowed the group to make additional orders.

A second order of 4,000 masks was distributed in April. The final order of 5,500 masks has been placed and is expected soon.

“We are so appreciative of the donated masks from Western Carolina Medical Society and Western Carolina University,” said Teresa Strom, CEO of Hot Springs Health Programs in Madison County. “This donation will enable us to continue to care for our patients.”

Surgical masks are intended to provide broad barrier protection, an essential element for health care workers and those dealing with at-risk populations and recommended in public settings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some of the Jackson County frontline recipients include Jackson County EMS, Harris Regional Hospital, Dr. David McGuire General Dentistry, the clinic of Dr. Clifford H. Mault and The Hermitage.

For more information, contact Hillon at