Masks4Community Made 77,000 Free Mask Kits to Distribute in Cleveland and East Cleveland

click to enlarge Masks4Community Made 77,000 Free Mask Kits to Distribute in Cleveland and East Cleveland

That's how many free, washable cloth masks Masks4Community assembled into kits — including information about COVID-19, voting and the Census — to be distributed in Cleveland and East Cleveland, specifically in African-American and Hispanic populations disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and most at-risk for adverse experiences.

77,000, or about 20% of the entire population of the city of Cleveland.

And it began with a simple observation.

"As the Governor was starting to reopen Ohio, no one was really thinking about washable cloth masks for community members," Shanelle Smith Whigham, one of the organizers, said of the genesis for the idea more than two months ago. "So I reached out to a few friends to see if they would join me on this journey and they obliged."

Thankfully, there was a huge response.

More than 140 volunteers spent more than 80 hours on the project, Whigham told Scene, and the original goal of 60,000 masks was surpassed thanks to generous support from their partners (St. Luke's, the Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund, and individual donors) and a donation of 13,000 masks from Habitat for Humanity.

As for getting the masks into the hands of those most in need, "Based on the Center for Disease Control’s 2018 Social Vulnerability Index, we have identified the Clark Fulton, Brooklyn-Center, Slavic Village, Hough, Central, Lee-Harvard, Glenville, Union-Miles, Buckeye-Woodhill, Mount Pleasant neighborhoods for targeted distribution," their site says.

Those are also areas that have significantly low Census response rates, which have driven Cleveland to the last spot among all major American cities as the decennial count continues. Only 47.6% of all Clevelanders have completed Census forms; only 29.7% have done so online. Neighborhoods with documented lack of internet access have so far clocked response rates in the low teens. Masks4Community's efforts to get Census information into the hands of those residents is also a key part of the effort.

In the two months since the project started, Cleveland's COVID-19 infection rates have climbed and city, county and state-wide mask mandates have been issued to help stop the spread of the virus. Thanks to their hard work, 77,000 more are now on the streets than would have been otherwise.

"Honestly, I feel hopeful about my generation's ability to lead Cleveland into her future," Whigham said. "Many of us never worked together but we saw an immediate need, one that many were not talking about at the time, but we leaned in and on each other to deliver this service for our community, and I'm proud of that."

About The Author

Vince Grzegorek

Vince Grzegorek has been with Scene since 2007 and editor-in-chief since 2012. He previously worked at Discount Drug Mart and Texas Roadhouse.
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