Buffalo, N.Y. -- What began as a small grassroots effort to protect vulnerable communities has evolved into a large-scale social health and civic empowerment initiative. Open Buffalo’s “Free Facemasks for Buffalo & Niagara Falls” program, which promotes the use of protective reusable masks in the wake of COVID-19 and offers education about Census and voter participation, has served thousands of individuals and families throughout Western New York.
This afternoon, Open Buffalo (OB) again set up one of its now well-known pop-up tables for free reusable mask distribution in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, handing out more than 3,000 masks with the help of volunteers from the Breaking Barriers program.
With the support of individual donors and sponsors including Erie Niagara Area Health Care Education Center, Masten District Common Council Member Ulysees O. Wingo Sr., and the WNY COVID-19 Community Response Fund, Open Buffalo has now distributed more than 10,000 mask kits – each mask is bundled with useful resources about the Census and voting – in Buffalo’s East Side and Niagara Falls.
Concern for the health and wellness of the residents in the Buffalo ZIP codes hardest hit by the Coronavirus in late April and early May was the impetus for Open Buffalo to begin grassroots fundraising to support the procurement of two-layer, modal fabric reusable masks.
Open Buffalo set up its first table at the intersection of Bailey and Kensington Avenues. The demand was evident with 1,000 masks handed out at that one event. Since then, pop-up tabling has occurred at Main and Utica Streets, Broadway Market, Jefferson Avenue and East Ferry, and in Niagara Falls at Mount Zion Baptist Church.
“The need is real, and the need is dire. People are out there wearing dirty one-time-use masks, or no mask at all, and that is unacceptable” said Executive Director Franchelle Parker. “We are doing everything we can to raise the funds, procure the masks, package the masks, and reach these communities as quickly as possible.”
While each mask is individually packaged at the factory level, Open Buffalo’s small staff has been working overtime to bundle the masks with informational inserts about mask usage and proper hygiene. The insert also includes important resources about voting and 2020 Census participation.
In addition to the tabling events, Open Buffalo saw the opportunity to partner with other nonprofits to expand its mask distribution and further support the community. OB joined efforts with groups involved in supplemental food distribution to include the masks in their deliveries. Additionally, other nonprofit organizations providing residential services have accepted Open Buffalo’s support with reusable masks for their residents and staff.
To date, more than 10,000 masks have been distributed through all channels. For anyone interested in continuing to support this effort, donations can be made online at www.openbuffalo.org or via text to FacemasksOB at 44321.
Open Buffalo is a 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to advance racial, economic, and ecological justice. It does so through skill building, network-connecting, and activating leadership opportunities. Its goal is for all communities in Western New York to thrive free from discrimination and poverty.