For 28 years the Vermont Chinese School has rung in the Chinese New Year with a colorful and lively community luncheon.

But this year, the stage at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School sat quiet.

Organizers elected to cancel the annual celebration for fear of gathering a crowd together at a time when COVID-19, a coronavirus, has infected thousands of people in China and around the world.

In lieu of a gathering, the school has decided to collect donations to benefit Chinese medical centers treating patients with the virus.

“We’re trying to avoid this gathering because of the situation,” said George Tang of the Vermont Chinese School.

As of Feb. 23, there were no cases of COVID-19 in Vermont, according to the state’s Department of Health.

Still, the Vermont Chinese School didn’t want to chance a gathering during the outbreak, according to Shen Mein of the Vermont Chinese School. The Vermont Chinese School offers Chinese culture and basic language courses in South Burlington.

The virus has impacted members of the Vermont Chinese School community’s family, Tang and Mein said. One Vermont Chinese School family has a relative in China who works as a police officer about 30 minutes outside Wuhan – where initial cases of the virus were reported.

“They are worried about their family,” Mein said.

Another Vermont Chinese School family returned from a trip to China last month, Tang added. And while that family and other Vermont Chinese School members are well, the group still wanted to help victims of the virus.

“We received peoples’ inquiries of, ‘Can we make an effort for Wuhan?’” Tang said.

And so, the Vermont Chinese School set out to plan a fundraiser. The group decided to collect donations for the WeStar Wuhan Relief Effort out of Boston, Mass. That organization is purchasing masks and other medical supplies to ship to hospitals in Wuhan, Mein said.

“It fit our donation purpose,” Tang said. “The local community, especially for the Chinese community they all come from the mainland … They still have pretty tight relations with friends and family in China. They want to share the pain with people in Wuhan.”

Donations for relief efforts are one way they can help, he said.

Between Feb. 21 and March 7, the Vermont Chinese School will accept monetary donations to help WeStar with its efforts.

Individuals who are interested in donating can send checks made payable to the Vermont Chinese School – with the memo “For Wuhan” – to PO Box 9209, South Burlington, Vt., 05403.

Donations can also be made at South Burlington High School lobby on Fridays through March 6, between 5:30-7 p.m. when the Vermont Chinese School is in session.

“Every penny counts,” Mein said, adding she’s grateful for the support. “I would like to thank [donors] for being so thoughtful and showing their kindness in helping others in such a needed time.”

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