When she heard a CDC spokesperson say crisis medical workers could use a bandana or scarf over their face as a last resort, Julie Kratzer knew she needed to do something to help healthcare workers. That’s the moment #RVAmasks4health was born.
RVA masks 4 health – a Facebook group with close to 4,000 members and rising – serves as a conduit between volunteer mask makers and personal protective equipment (PPE) needs in the area during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kratzer says it’s about connecting resources. “We work on this from morning to night. When I wake up the next day, we are already behind. If we keep the requests and makers organized, we can get out more masks.”
Once she put the word out, Kratzer started getting messages and requests from people and healthcare facilities to join the group. At first, people were using the resources she had posted on the group’s Facebook page. “Then people started asking for masks. My goal from the beginning was to provide a place that people in the community could plug into to help,” she says.
To request masks or volunteer in a variety of capacities, visit #RVAmasks4health on Facebook here.
Here’s another group that makes masks for essential workers in Richmond. #MaskforRetail
Volunteers don’t have to be skilled at sewing. Some of the people making the masks can’t leave their homes; volunteers are needed to drive around the region and pick up masks and supplies – all without any person-to-person contact. “Drivers distribute in their area. We have safety tips listed for what you do before and after the drop-off, so you don’t contaminate things you are sharing,” she says.
Kratzer also has a list of needs on the group’s Facebook page. Members of the group can access the information.
People can look at the list to see the drop-off location and take the masks there. “Some facilities have a drop-off box at the emergency room department and some give directions [for where to leave the masks],” Kratzer says. “We provide a sheet showing what volunteers have to do when they get to the facility to make the donation. They [volunteer mask makers] don’t have to let us know they are dropping off. We stay in contact with the facilities. When they have gotten enough masks, we take them off the list.”
Someone from a medical facility must join the group as a contact person before a request for masks can be made. At this time, the group is only filling mask requests for the healthcare industry and first responders.
“Hopefully, we can get to the point where the medical groups are all well-stocked and we can make masks for essential workers at different organizations,” Kratzer said.
Since she launched the group on March 20, volunteers have made thousands of masks. “We don’t track every mask. Some of the people we were tracking were making over a hundred masks a day, and I think it’s double that now. We had one girl who said she made two hundred masks in one day,” Kratzer says. “It’s amazing what these people are cranking out.”
All of the requests she tries to fill are from local facilities. She refers out-of-state requests to the national group Million Mask Challenge (#millionmaskchallenge).
Kratzer admits she had no idea that RVA masks 4 health would grow to more than 3,000 members. “I thought it would be me and twenty people putting something together for the Chesterfield area,” she says. “It’s been quite the journey.”
If you have a story to share about someone doing extraordinary things to help the Richmond-area community during the pandemic, please email RFM.