Essential Workers Need Masks. You Can Help

By United Way of King County, on April 30, 2020 | In News, Volunteering

Hand sanitizer. Disinfectant cleaning supplies. 6-foot markers. Technology for remote work.

The list of items nonprofits need to function keeps growing—resources to purchase them are scarce and the need for their services continues to expand.

Top of the list for many essential businesses right now are masks for their staff, volunteers and program participants. The recent death of a 28-year-old worker serving young people in Burien, likely tied to COVID-19, highlights the risks those in the sector are taking every day to care for our most vulnerable neighbors.

You can help. The many organizations continuing to serve our community through this pandemic need cloth masks. Whether it is a local PTA distributing food bags to families, a residential care facility for youth, or the many local shelters and food providers – masks are needed.

Early in April, with guidance from our friends at Providence Hospital, we set up a site for our nonprofit and government partners to post their needs for masks. Given the huge response Providence received to its own mask-making request for its healthcare employees, we’re counting on the generosity of volunteers like you to help us get masks to organizations that need them. Included in each organization’s post are instructions for volunteers making masks.

Washington Mask Challenge

Today our site becomes part of the lieutenant governor’s Washington Mask Challenge. United Way of King County is a proud partner in this effort to encourage residents to wear, make and donate homemade masks.

You can find mask requests from a range of local agencies and sign up here.

We are already seeing a positive response to these requests, including from local for-profit and nonprofit businesses that are keeping people employed while doing good:

  • When Seattle-based bag/backpack manufacturer Tom Bihn reached out, we connected them to our list of organizations that need masks—including 500 we’ll get to our Fuel Your Future AmeriCorps members and volunteers who are distributing free meals for youths. Owner Tom Bihn also created a video with tips on making masks at home.
  • Refugee Artisan Initiative is a nonprofit that helps immigrant and refugee women find sustainable work sewing and making handicrafts. They’ve transitioned their efforts to focus on making masks, so they can continue to provide an income for the women in their program. They set-up a fund to raise dollars for masks they’re giving to community groups and are also keeping women employed by selling masks and mask-making kits to the public.
A woman wearing a mask and holding a free summer meals bag.
Fuel Your Future AmeriCorps member Olivia.

If you don’t sew and can afford to buy masks, the above are just two examples of local organizations that are focused on keeping employees working while also responding to the needs of local nonprofits. Are there others you know?  Let us know in the comments below.

While working from home can be challenging, for many of our neighbors, it’s not an option. Essential nonprofits’ staff—and volunteers—are out there every day, and you can help them and the people they serve by taking one item off their list. We hope you will step up to the challenge.


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