"I'm just really happy that I'm able to make a difference and want to show that Asian Americans are with health workers and we want to unite," Valerie Xu says

By Joelle Goldstein
April 28, 2020 01:03 PM
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A Texas teen went above and beyond in the fight against coronavirus by donating over 11,000 masks to a local hospital — a gesture she hopes will also help dispel bias against Asian Americans in the United States amid the pandemic.

Valerie Xu tells PEOPLE she had no hesitations about jumping into action when she began to notice a shortage of masks and PPE in hospitals across the U.S.

“This is something that’s happening nationwide,” says the 15-year-old student. “Especially in a first world country like the U.S., these things should not be happening and I think as people in this country, we have a civic duty to try and help these [first responders] any way possible.”

It was that attitude that drove Xu to develop a fundraiser. She ultimately raised enough money to purchase and donate 11,200 masks to UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas on Friday morning.

“I’m just really happy that I’m able to make a difference and want to show that Asian Americans are with health workers and we want to unite,” the Addison teen says.

Valerie Xu
| Credit: Vivian Xu

Xu says the need became extra clear to her in March after a family friend, who works as an ER doctor in Florida, had to reuse the same mask for multiple weeks.

“Unfortunately, he is not the only doctor that has to do that… which just goes to show the urgent need,” she explains. “In order for a community to fight this virus, medical workers need to be safely protected.”

Along with wanting to help frontline workers, Xu says she was inspired to take action after experiencing racism firsthand. (In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Asian Americans have reported an increase in racist attacks.)

“I was in my neighborhood, just walking outside and I wasn’t even coughing or anything,” she recalls. “This lady was walking a few feet away from me, and when she saw me, she immediately covered her entire mouth and pinched her nose.”

“It was a shocker to me, especially since I’ve grown up in the U.S.,” Xu continues. “It just made me realize that no matter how much I try to prove myself as an American, my skin color will always define me… [this] motivated me to speak out for my race and my community.”

Valerie Xu
| Credit: Vivian Xu

On March 20, the teen launched a GoFundMe page called Masks Matter, where she asked friends, family, and community members for donations to purchase masks. Xu also partnered with a local Asian American-run business in Dallas, which matched all of her GoFundMe donations.

In just a few weeks, Xu was able to raise a total of $7,500 — $3,130 of which was raised on GoFundMe and another $3,130 from the company match. To reach the $7,500 mark, she donated $1,240 from her personal savings.

With that money, she was able to purchase 10,000 surgical masks and 1,200 FFP2 masks — the European equivalent of N95s — from a vendor in China that her mother found through their family connections.

“I did not expect it to be this big,” Xu admits. “Our goal was to at least have 5,000 masks, but when we slowly saw it climb… [we decided to] increase the number of masks. It was definitely a surprise, but I’m just so thankful to everyone who helped spread the message and contributed to my campaign.”

Valerie Xu’s boxes of masks
| Credit: Vivian Xu

Xu got to personally deliver the boxes to the “gracious and thankful” Dallas hospital staff on Friday morning — a moment that the teen said was particularly meaningful.

“It means a lot to me because I want to try and inspire a lot of other Asian American women like me,” she explains. “I just want to make a difference. I want to show others that Asian Americans are standing alongside health workers [and] are willing to help contribute.”

“Everyone in these hospitals — in this entire system — has been working day to night, and I’m just so thankful for all their work and I’m more than happy to do this,” she adds.

Even with a donation of 11,200 masks under her belt, Xu says she doesn’t plan on stopping her fundraising efforts.

According to the teen, her campaign is currently still open and receiving funds, which she hopes to use for more masks that can eventually be donated to “whoever needs it,” including other hospitals, nursing homes, and homeless shelters.

Valerie Xu with staff from UT Southwestern Medical Center
| Credit: Vivian Xu

While Xu has already dedicated a great deal of time to “Masks Matter” — and expects to keep doing so — the Greenhill School student says she’s also made sure to prioritize her studies along the way.

“It’s been a challenge, I’ll say, but I think when it comes to something you’re really passionate about, you can always find time to do it,” she says. “Whenever I had free time, I would usually work on this campaign… even like 10, 15 minutes added up. It makes a large difference.”

Similarly, Xu wants others to know that when it comes to helping people, every action matters.

“If there’s a need in your community, go for it,” she urges. “I think a lot of people, especially my age, feel like young people cannot make a difference [but] I feel like no matter how small a contribution, it still makes a difference and means something.”

“Even if it is only giving ten doctors masks… it symbolizes something to your community, and it still makes a difference in the hearts of essential workers,” she continues. “Just go ahead and do it because these small actions add up to a large action that can help our community as a whole.”

As of Tuesday morning, there have been at least 987,691 cases and 50,819 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to the New York Times. In Texas, at least 25,960 cases and 699 deaths have been reported, according to the Times.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.