Behind the Masks

Stevenson families band together to help the school, but end up protecting the entire county

Stevenson parents Emily Yang Bauer (P ’20, ’20 and ’25) and Hillary Lin’s (P ’18) first delivery of medical masks to local residents on the Monterey Peninsula in early April was, according to Bauer, a gesture of “good heart” from Stevenson’s Chinese families to the school, after Stevenson sent its boarders home and moved to online teaching. But there was also a greater purpose to the project: “Practically speaking,” says Bauer, “our children may not be able to return to school next fall if we can’t control this coronavirus. So I told the other Chinese families, ‘I think we need to help.’”

Hendrick Huang, the brother of two Stevenson freshmen, Jiahai and Jiafeng Huang ’23, had already delivered a shipment of 16,000 masks from Singapore to the school for its teachers and staff (and eventually for its returning students). Bauer and Lin, part of an online chat group made up of 250 Chinese past and current parents, decided to raise money for another 20,000 masks for the communities surrounding the school. They knew postal workers could use them, and police and first responders, but they didn’t foresee that it would go much further than that.

“As soon as we started donating,” Bauer says, “people affiliated with local hospitals started calling and asking for masks. I’m like, ‘Wow! This is surreal, but it’s real.’” 

So Bauer and Lin petitioned the parents in the chat group for donations for another 60,000 masks, including surgical masks and N-95s for frontline healthcare workers. Some parents donated money, others actual masks.

The first masks came from a massive shipment that had already arrived in Los Angeles. “Thirty-thousand masks were brought to my house at 1:30 a.m. by two guys in a truck,” says Bauer, who lives in Pebble Beach with her husband and three children, Helen Yang ’20, Lance Yang Bauer ’20, and Katrina Lang Bauer ’25. “I got my guesthouse ready with dinner for them, and told my husband, ‘Just have them stay overnight there so they don’t have to drive back.’ Guess what? Those two guys didn’t even go to the bathroom—they just jumped back into the truck and left.

The next day Stevenson parents who lived locally, along with some of Bauer’s friends, repackaged the masks into bundles of 10, which Bauer and Lin’s husbands then drove to the Seaside Family Health Center and the various headquarters of first responders. A few days later, Bauer and Lin began distributing the masks to the general public in six locations around the Peninsula. 

Suddenly there was a mask frenzy: cars were lined up for blocks and blocks, their occupants waiting for one bundle apiece. At one location, 500 cars were turned away. Word, it seems, had gotten out when the Salinas Police Department advertised the mask donations on their Facebook page and another Stevenson parent who works for the City of Monterey contacted the press.

In the parking lot at the Salinas PD, for example, cars started arriving at 7:30 a.m. for a 3 o’clock distribution of 5,000 masks. At noon, Bauer got a call from the Sargent there telling her that traffic was backed up, and they had to start handing out the masks right then and there. But Bauer knew that by the time 3:00 rolled around, there’d be no masks left. She managed to stall until 2:15.

That same day, another issue arose: people on foot were clamoring for masks, creating gatherings of over 10 people, forbidden under Governor Newsom’s shelter in place order. Residents, including pregnant women and people with the elderly at home, were so desperate, Bauer says, that she had to ask the police to help keep them from coming within six feet of her.

All in all, the group has given out nearly 100,000 masks, including to Monterey school districts’ free lunch program and to the county’s seniors. 

Ten masks per family isn’t much for an extended period of time, but most of the masks can be reused. “These are a pretty decent grade of masks that regular people like us should wear,” Bauer says. “I spray them, front and back, with alcohol. I let them dry, and I wear them again.” 

Bauer hopes that Stevenson’s families are making a difference in the fight against the COVID-19. “If all of us are wearing masks here in Monterey County,” she says, “I think this will pass us.” (As of this writing, 164 people have been confirmed to have coronavirus in the county, and five people have died of complications from the disease.)

Hendrick Huang, whose family donated the original 16,000 masks to the school, says, “We hope the masks can bring our community more security and safety under the current situation. And we hope the people who receive the masks can feel the caring and support from our family. We don’t know who the masks are given to, but we want to send a message to Stevenson that though the virus is vicious and detrimental, we are all in this together.”

Bauer agrees. “We’ve made so many people so happy giving away these masks,” she says. “I tell you, I sent my friends some of the photos of people lining up, and they’re like ‘Oh, Emily, are you passing out Christmas gifts?’ And I said, ‘These are more precious than cash—we’re passing out hope.’”