As soon as Euge Lee heard about the petition signed by students at the Oakland Unified School District, threatening to boycott classes until the district did a better job of protecting students from COVID-19, he acted.

“The students were pushing for a safer school, and one of their demands was for more masks,” Lee said.

Lee contacted the Oakland mayor’s office and the school district, and he offered to donate KN95 medical masks. Within 12 hours of agreement, OUSD received 10,000 masks and the city of Oakland received 15,000 from Lee’s San Francisco company, Western Gravel and Roofing Supply.

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“I had a large supply of those masks sitting in the warehouse,” Lee said. “I thought this was the least I could do to help.”

The masks allocated to the school district were distributed by the middle of January.

Over the past five years, Euge Lee has donated more than 90,000 masks to various local entities, including the city of Oakland and the Oakland Unified School District. (Nick Marnell/Bay City News)

“It’s in large measure because of community members like the Lee family that we are able to support our students and families the way we do,” said OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell in a statement. “Donations to our schools are appreciated every time they happen. But to think of our students and make such a donation just days before opening a restaurant is remarkable.” Lee is preparing for the grand opening of Korner Kitchen in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood over the weekend.

This was not the first time Lee stepped up with a mask donation.

Since the 2017 North Bay wildfires, and ensuing fires over the past five years that suffocated the Bay Area with smoke and sometimes ash, Lee has donated more than 90,000 masks to various entities, confirmed by Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief Tracey Chin, who receives and supervises distribution of all personal protective equipment for the city.

“It’s fantastic and heartwarming to see members of the Oakland business community step up as Euge has,” Chin said.

Lee, whose parents came to the United States from South Korea in the 1970s, credits his upbringing with his desire to help those in need.

Euge Lee shakes hands with Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief Tracey Chin in Oakland in front of a truck filled with donated KN95 masks. “For him to see a way to share with others is something special,” Chin said. (Euge Lee via Bay City News)

“My parents told me that I was fortunate to have food, clothes, a school, most of the things I need, but that a lot of people have a lot less. It stuck with me the importance of giving back,” Lee said.

From those admonitions, Lee developed his life’s mantra. “Every time you do better, make sure others around you do better as well,” he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, masking is a critical public health tool for preventing spread of COVID-19, and the organization stresses that “any mask is better than no mask.”

Students at Garfield Elementary School wear KN95 masks donated by Euge Lee. The masks were delivered on Jan. 13. (Oakland Unified School District via Bay City News)

But a respirator, like the KN95 medical mask, has better filtration and, if worn properly the whole time it is in use, can provide “an important extra layer of protection from COVID” than a cloth mask, OUSD chief systems and services officer Preston Thomas said.

The 1,200 students who petitioned the district for more protection against the coronavirus have threatened to strike Friday if their other demands are not met, including distance learning and weekly PCR testing, until the number of COVID cases drops.