As COVID-19 spread across the United States in March, an unexpected opportunity to help fight the pandemic presented itself to Bryan Pedersen.
A financial advisor in RBC Wealth Management's Cheyenne, Wyoming branch, Pedersen was contacted by someone he worked with while serving in the Wyoming House of Representatives from 2004-2012. China's Shaanxi Province - connected to Wyoming through a sister-city relationship - wanted to donate protective medical supplies to help fight COVID-19. Pedersen was asked to help, in part because of his experience as a legislator, but also because he had experience working with the Chinese government in adopting two children.
For the next month, Pedersen helped worked through state, national and international governmental logistics and challenges to obtain the necessary permissions. The shipment of 10,000 protective face masks, 300 surgical gowns and 300 face shields - altogether worth more than $10,000 - left China in late April and arrived in Wyoming in early May, coinciding with the state's anticipated peak in COVID-19 infections.
For Pedersen, the donation is more than just political. With his family's two adopted Chinese children, including one from Wuhan, where the virus originated, the medical supplies represent something larger.
"More than just helping with the shortage of supplies in Wyoming, I hope this donation is viewed as a people-to-people gift," Pedersen says. "Governments may not always get along, but this shows there are great people everywhere."
'We're all connected in this'
Throughout the spring, Pedersen read news stories about Chinese-Americans being discriminated against in public because of the Chinese connection to COVID-19. He wanted to do whatever he could to ensure that his two adopted children wouldn't be singled out in public or in their schools because of their ethnicity.
"My children shouldn't have to go to school and be told it's their fault. My daughter is from Wuhan, and people know that," he says. "By helping to make this donation happen, I wanted to show that we're all connected in this."
Pedersen is an advocate for diversity and inclusion at RBC Wealth Management, and every year organizes an event for his colleagues that celebrates Chinese culture.
"We don't have a lot of diversity out in the rural part of America here, so we try to highlight our family's diversity and show people are people, no matter where they come from," Pedersen says.
So he was glad to be asked to help navigate the bureaucratic and governmental logistics of the delivery from Shaanxi, which involved working with the Wyoming governor's office to create a letter of acceptance for the supplies and then ensuring the items were approved by the FDA. Pedersen's experience as a former state legislator, as well as serving as the Wyoming Boxing Commissioner, provided the tools and connections to see everything through to the end.
Bryan Pedersen helped facilitate the donation of personal protective equipment from China. Photo courtesy of Shelby Perea.
"Shaanxi Province is a great friend to Wyoming," wrote Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon in his letter of acceptance, “and the strong mutual friendship and support from our sister province, will help Wyoming navigate the very serious and difficult times COVID-19 is presenting."
Pedersen was on hand to help receive the medical supplies when they arrived in Wyoming, before passing them on to the state's Office of Homeland Security. State officials then distributed everything to Wyoming hospitals to ensure they were sent to locations that needed them the most.
Because Wyoming was still restricting public gatherings at the time the shipment arrived, there was no official ceremony to mark the donation, and no speeches to highlight the spirit of partnership between China and Wyoming. But a small message printed on each of the boxes summed up the significance of the shipment that had traveled nearly halfway across the globe:
"We're bound together through thick and thin."
Bryan Pedersen and his sons Brock and Brant help to load up the personal protective equipment from China to deliver to Wyoming state officials. Photo courtesy of Shelby Perea.