Last month, the CDC revised its guidelines on face masks, encouraging people to wear some kind of face covering, and overnight, face masks became a fixture of our coronavirus world. But with mass shortages in stores and online retailers, how are people supposed to get the PPE they need?
Enter Project Mask RI. They’re a volunteer network led by five organizers that combines a vision of social justice with direct action. Their mission is to source material, recruit volunteers to make masks and then transport those masks to people in need. They have more than 70 volunteers who sew, donate and deliver masks from their distribution hub. It’s all done online — the five lead organizers have never met in person.
“It’s not a unique idea,” says Colin Kent-Dagget, one of the organizers of Project Mask RI. It was something he and fellow organizer Lucy Berman had been talking about doing in March, a month before it became part of the CDC guidelines for the general public. It was pure coincidence that they started a week before the CDC’s announcement on it.
Mask-making materials are crowdsourced, either from monetary donations or supplies, and Project Mask RI also works with local businesses to source materials and supplies. The masks themselves are placed in sealed packages after they’re manufactured, and so far the organization has yet to deliver to a facility that can’t sterilize the masks onsite. Volunteers are expected to maintain standards of cleanliness, something the organizers trust them to do in good faith.
Kent-Dagget created the mask design they use, adding, “We’re reliant on donations from volunteers. We don’t sell any of them.”
Berman adds, “We’re not looking to make money off it. That’s the worst thing to do.”
Their website includes instructions and videos of how to make masks at home out of cloth or as a last resort, paper towels. They spread awareness of their campaign and perform outreach entirely on social media, with only some minor flying adding to their temporal presence. Project Mask RI also has a GoFundMe, where they take donations toward the cause.
Notably, the organizers use drivers and not the postal service to deliver the masks. “Mail is too slow,” says Berman. “The idea from the beginning was to use drivers.” She explains that she mailed a mask to Kent-Dagget a few weeks prior, and it still had not showed up at the time of our interview. It’s a wide organizing effort that makes Project Mask RI happen — possibly one of the few direct action organizations that combines old-fashioned sewing circles with the modern activist drive of young volunteers.
If you would like to donate or volunteer for Project Mask RI, visit their website at projectmaskri.com or donate directly to their GoFundMe: gofundme.com/f/project-mask-ri-to-protect-those-protecting-us