In early March, there were only a few COVID-19 positive cases in Shanghai. But it rapidly turned into mass outbreaks in mid-March, which was supposed to be one of the most unforgettable moments in the lives of many Shanghai residents. In the past, many of them could only find out about disasters happening in other places through newspapers and TV programs, which made it difficult to empathize. However, this pandemic surge has forced many Shanghai citizens to experience what it was like to be hungry, right here in Shanghai, the most developed economy in China, right now in the Twenty-first Century of 2022.
Between the end of March and the beginning of April, with the extension of the community lockdown period, many Shanghai residents had almost or already run out of food supplies at home. There were fewer and fewer edible things at mine. The refrigerator compartment had been completely emptied, and the freezer compartment that was originally full had a bigger half available. To put it bluntly, vegetables and fruits had been long gone, and only some meat was in the freezer. As a father of two children, I always stocked up on some meat, fruits, and snacks at home. Rice, flour, cooking oil, etc. would also last for a while. However, it was not the case for many Shanghai residents. Many young people who were not used to cooking at all usually relied on ordering takeaways to survive. Unfortunately, during the epidemic-related lockdown, there were almost no delivery services, and as a result, these young people had to find ways to feed themselves.
"Lockdown" meant no more express delivery services, trading, or people travelling in and out of this city, the impact of which was unbelievable for a megacity like Shanghai. The most direct impact was that residents had nothing to eat or were about to. Those who had run out of food cried for help in the community WeChat group. Neighbors who still had food and also a charitable heart would often share some food with them for free. I had even given and also received food from such residents, e.g., a kind person gave me two large boxes of milk when my child finished all the milk powder and fresh milk we had, which helped the little one pass extremely difficult days. However, gradually, even the "landlords" (referring to the residents who had food) didn’t have much food left. There are more than 2,000 people in my residential compound who needed to consume a great deal of food every day. Finding food sources posed an urgent and serious issue for all residents.
In reality, no one was able to acquire vegetables, meat, rice, flour or other necessities of life, let alone fruits and milk which were already considered "luxury goods". First of all, we had to find a way to survive.
Finally, a resident of the compound got in touch with a supplier who could deliver vegetables to us. Someone volunteered to be the leader of the grocery group buying. As a result, the hot battle to fight for acquiring vegetables began immediately. In the end, more than 200 households in the entire compound placed orders for nearly 300 boxes of vegetables.
A few days later, the truck loaded with the vegetables from other provinces finally arrived at the entrance of our compound after another transit inside Shanghai after 10 pm, which was not too convenient since many residents were elders who went to bed very early at night and had already slept. So, a problem arose: how were nearly 300 boxes of vegetables supposed to be unloaded, and then delivered to every household? During that time, the atmosphere in my compound was very tense because from late March to early April, there were 5 or 6 people infected with COVID-19 in the compound. Meanwhile, the overall epidemic situation in Shanghai also began to become very serious. More than 10,000 people were diagnosed with coronavirus every day. The resident population of the entire Shanghai was about 25 million. Therefore, residents were forbidden to walk around freely in the compound, consequently people who had ordered vegetables were not allowed to pick them up at the gate of the compound by themselves, but had to wait for volunteers to help.
To be honest, I struggled inside: I wanted to go and help unload the vegetables, but I was very hesitant.
The reason for going was very simple. Many people had already run out of food, forcing them to rummage through all corners of the house for anything edible. They ate whatever they could find without caring if it was expired food. Some hadn’t even seen a vegetable leaf for several days, for they had eaten up all vegetables.
The reason for not going was also very simple that I was afraid of infection. I wouldn’t be afraid of myself being infected, but there were three other people in the family, especially two children, one of whom hadn’t been vaccinated because he was just over three years old. If the children were infected, they would be taken to a mobile cabin hospital for treatment. At that time, more than 10,000 daily new cases implied that the cumulative cases would exceed 100,000 in total. Therefore, the conditions of the mobile cabin hospitals would not be ideal. Besides, there was news that infected babies were taken away without companion parents, which would be beyond our ability to deal with.
In addition, as a volunteer, adequate self-protection was important. Since I wouldn’t be a volunteer recruited by an official organization, but rather a resident volunteering to help, I had almost no protective equipment such as protective clothing and disinfectants, except for the masks that every household prepared. The vegetables had been transported all the way from other provinces. No one knew what had happened along the way, including whether they had been touched by coronavirus carriers.
I struggled for a while before I decided to go and help after praying. I easily justified my decision that someone had to do it. Even non-believers went to help, then as a Christian, I should go too. They said love with no concrete actions would be mostly cheap or even dead. After having made the decision, I told my wife, who was also understanding and supportive. I asked her to sleep with the two children. Then, with no protective clothing, I just put on a mask and wore the clothes as tight as possible before leaving home.
Arriving at the gate of the compound, we several residents who volunteered simply allocated the work and started unloading. For epidemic prevention and control reasons, the trucks couldn’t enter the compound but parked at the entrance. Therefore, we must quickly unload these nearly 300 vegetable bags from it and move them to the inside of the gate. Sadly, when unloading the goods, we had a fight with the property management staff who at first forbade unloading the vegetables on the grounds that the hygienic safety of these vegetables could not be guaranteed. If these vegetables carried the coronavirus, then almost everyone in the compound had a risk of being infected. After contacting the Neighborhood Committee which convinced the property staff, the goods were finally unloaded smoothly around 11 o'clock in the evening.
After unloading, distributing these vegetables was an even more onerous task. There were 5 or 6 volunteers in total, but only one flatbed trolley which was temporarily lent to us by a neighbor. We could only separate vegetables by orders from each building, then put them onto the trolley and drag it back and forth to deliver the vegetables to the entrance of each building, and then notify all those who placed orders in that building through the WeChat group, asking them to come downstairs to pick up their vegetables. Instead of delivery to door, we could only follow the epidemic prevention guidance applied in our compound which was that all residents were not allowed to enter other buildings except the one in which they lived.
In the end, it took us more than two hours to finish distributing all vegetables at past one o'clock in the morning. Probably because the householders were too short of vegetables, even though it was already midnight, they came to collect right after we put the vegetables downstairs. Many residents even waited there in advance in the middle of the night, in order to get their orders sooner. After receiving the vegetables, many residents were so happy and thrilled that they kept saying "thank you" to us as volunteers.
But my work was far from done at finishing the deliveries. My worries had never been greater.
When I returned home under the starlight, the children had already fallen asleep. I woke up my wife by opening the door. Then I hurried to the next disinfection procedure – I threw away the mask, took off all my clothes including underwear, then put all of them into the washing machine, and added a few bottles of disinfectant. I rushed into the shower and washed carefully for more than 20 minutes till I made sure that I had rubbed every part of my body as carefully as possible. After putting on my clothes, I did another antigen test and waited until the test result showed negative that it was still one bar. Still feeling some anxiety in my heart, I prayed for a while before going to sleep.
For the next three days, I did an antigen test every day. After three days, both my antigen test and PCR test results were negative, only when I felt relieved. God blessed me for suffering so that my family and my children are not infected.
Since then, I have also participated in volunteer services in some communities. Through this epidemic, I have gained a lot and gotten to know many neighbors with whom I had no contact at all previously. I also believe that what the epidemic has brought to people is not only suffering, but all things work together for the benefit of those who love God.
- Translated by Shuya Wang