Spotlight: BYD North America joins pandemic relief efforts in rural California

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, June 22, 2020
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by Julia Pierrepont III, Gao Shan

LOS ANGELES, June 21 (Xinhua) -- BYD North America, the Chinese electric bus manufacturer headquartered in Lancaster, California, has joined the efforts of county government to provide meals and safety supplies for local residents as part of the company's million-dollar donation program during the COVID-19 crisis.

Fresno County in Central California is largely a rural agricultural area known for the wealth of fruits, nuts and vegetables that it ships around the globe.

However, with a significant number of unemployed, low-income, senior and handicapped residents, Fresno County has recently had its hands full scrambling to cope with the additional demands of the pandemic, trying to help those struggling to keep food on their table and who have no means of transportation for essential errands.

The Fresno County Rural Transit Agency (FCRTA) provides a countywide public transportation service for residents who have no other way to get around the town, commute to work, attend college, appear in court, buy groceries or take care of many other important errands. They also allow seniors to ride for free in the city.

But COVID-19 seriously disrupted the usual services the county provides.

"Everything shut down, including government agencies, community centers, senior centers, food banks, school cafeterias and the other places that provided essential services, like meals, to the elderly, sick and handicapped. That was an immediate problem," FCRTA General Manager Moses Stites told Xinhua in a recent interview.

He also said that because of getting less government funding due to having a lower population density than cities do, rural areas are having to find ways to make things work by sheer ingenuity and a little help from donations by corporate allies like BYD.

To solve the most pressing problem of getting food and PPE supplies to needy residents on a daily basis, county and local officials assembled a coalition of groups that would each handle a different part of the logistical problem.

For food, they enrolled local facilities closed due to the pandemic, schools without students, and other facilities equipped with commercial kitchens to make the meals. Restaurants that were struggling not to go bankrupt during the lockdown were particularly thrilled to be given a lifeline.

Prior to the pandemic, people on the meals program were brought into the community centers to eat on site or to pick up their meals, but that was no longer possible when the centers were closed and residents were under stay-at-home orders from the governor.

To get meals and supplies to needy residents at home, the county used first responders from the police and fire departments. But, with fire season looming and other pressing demands on police time, that was impractical for the long term.

Stites got an urgent call from Adam Castaneda, the Community Services Director for the City of Kingsburg in Fresno County. Castaneda asked if the FCRTA could help them make deliveries for the meal program. Stites jumped at the chance.

"Our ridership had plummeted by 40 to 80 percent due to COVID-19, so we'd had to close some routes, but we wanted to keep our drivers employed," Stites said.

"Before, we drove the elderly and others to the community centers and food banks to get their meals. Now, we drive the meals to them," he said. "It made sense and it keeps our drivers earning a paycheck."

Along its regular routes, FCRTA drivers pick up the food from schools, community centers, restaurants, grocery stores and food banks, and delivers to those who are confined to their homes.

Stites called it a "good win-win," and said it shows how rural America rises to face a challenge head on.

He added that in this case "we were fortunate to have partners like BYD who are sensitive to the needs of rural America. There are so many needy people in the cities, rural America often gets overlooked."

The FCRTA had bought two electric buses from BYD with two more on order, so "fortunately we were on BYD's radar," Stites said. He was impressed by how far the company went "above and beyond the usual customer service" to help out Fresno County.

He recounted how, when the pandemic hit, "out of the blue, BYD sent us masks and hand sanitizer for FCRTA's frontline workers, drivers and dispatchers."

Then when the company heard of the challenges facing the meals-on-wheels type program the FCRTA was helping to mount, BYD doubled down and donated more masks and sanitizer, enough to be delivered to all the county's meal recipients to help keep Fresno's most vulnerable population safe.

Ruben Alaniz, a local resident and new recipient on the meal delivery program, has been forced to stay at home due to a recent kidney transplant which makes him highly susceptible to infection.

"I'm really grateful for the meal program and the masks and sanitizers are a lifesaver for us," he told Xinhua.

He explained that his wife needs the masks for safety when she goes out to shop, adding she told him that trying to find their own PPEs in the rural shops had been "as rare as finding a unicorn."

He sent his thanks out to BYD for their gift of "unicorns" and said, "It's nice for a Chinese company to step up like that when they didn't have to. We really appreciate it."

"It's a blessing," his wife, Cathy Alaniz, added. "The program really helps us out and reduces our risk. That means a lot."

BYD North America President Stella Li confirmed that BYD is donating 1 million U.S. dollars in PPE supplies, including masks and sanitizer, to help U.S. communities weather the COVID-19 crisis.

"Our partners at the Fresno County Rural Transit District took our donations and paired them with grocery deliveries to some of Central California's most needy residents. We are extremely happy to know that these donations are going to the communities where they are most needed," Li told Xinhua.

BYD is shipping 150 million N95 masks to California after the company received certification from the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to produce N95 respirators for the state. The new batch of N95 masks is on the way after 110 million surgical masks from BYD have been distributed to help sectors in California reopen safely, according to a statement released earlier this month from the governor's office.

"Most companies are not as generous because they are taking care of their own needs, but BYD's concern didn't just stop at the end of the bumper when our buses rolled off their assembly-line," Stites said. "They were here for us."

"BYD is really investing in our community's welfare. We're all in this together," he added. Enditem

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