As companies around the world are temporarily shutting their doors to help stem the spread of COVID-19, people are opening their hearts and wallets to help support the need for personal protective equipment for health-care workers as well as for the general public.

Working at home under the mandatory shelter-in-place restrictions left LeighAnne Allen, director of accounts at Addison, Texas, distributor Ideas In Motion, with lots of time on her hands during the weekends. When a friend who is an oncologist reached out on Facebook with a plea for people to make and donate masks to her staff, she fired up her sewing machine and got started. With many willing volunteers, the doctor’s needs were easily met, and Allen turned to making masks for friends who are health-care workers and for her family. “I had gotten to a point recently where I was throwing all of my free time into work (I absolutely love my job and our company) but I really needed a hobby. This need came at the perfect time. I often feel guilty that my parents paid for me to get a degree in Home Ec at Baylor University. While I have a unique skill set, I have never felt like what they paid for four years of college was worth it, until now. I’m so thankful I have the skills to do a very small part in the fight against COVID-19.” So far, she’s made 50 masks using a tight-knit cotton and quarter-inch elastic for the straps. It takes about 10 minutes to sew each one. “It’s like a Ford assembly line,” she says. “It takes longer to measure and cut the fabric than it does to sew it.”

Allen’s colleague, Heather Townsend, who handles business development at Ideas In Motion, joined in the effort after hearing of several organizations asking for masks. “I am not an expert at sewing by any means, but I can sew crafty items and thought this was a great way to get the family involved to help others.” All the masks Townsend has made so far have gone to hospital groups in Kansas City, working through friends in the medical field. “They are in need of masks, so we are sending each batch to a different hospital group.” So far, Townsend, her husband and their three children, ages 8, 9 and 11, have made 130 masks, working on them each weekend as a family project. “My husband helps cut the fabric, my kids iron, assemble and pull the loops through,” she says. She found a pattern on a Facebook group and used fabric she had on hand for crafts and dog bandanas. “These are not medical-grade masks but if they can help protect a little bit and provide some uplifting color, our time is worth it. I hope the kids will remember what they did to help out in this situation in the years to come as well,” she says.

Carol Gauger, MAS, who is the Dallas, Texas-based south central regional sales manager for supplier ETS Express, Inc., was also quick to help out when she heard face masks were needed. Gauger bought small pre-cut squares of fabric in a variety of prints to appeal to men, women and children—enough materials to make 84 masks. So far, she’s completed half of them, and the remainder are in some stage of completion. “The key thing for me though was if I was going to make them, I wanted to be sure they would be used by a group.” She reached out to two organizations and heard back from one, Irving Cares, which is the local nonprofit that PPAI supports. The masks will be used by volunteers and given to clients who regularly visit Irving Cares to pick up food. “I hope these will help keep the Irving Cares volunteers safe and offer protection for any of their clients who are still exposed in their daily lives. There are still so many people on the front lines, and they should have some form of protection.”

In addition to face masks, distributors are also finding ways they can help make a difference. Joree Ouzts, owner of Greenville, South Carolina, distributor Promotions Unlimited, recently designed and printed 50 t-shirts for a local restaurant that needed help in getting the word out about their takeout service. “They are known more for their atmosphere and ambiance than their takeout,” she says. “They made $15 per shirt for a total of $750 that they could use for their workers. They were so happy to get them, and they are bringing us lunch over whenever things get back to normal. It made us feel great to be able to help.”

Houston, Texas distributor Walter Kurt, owner of Three K Consultants, Inc., is helping share ideas and hope by recording a daily video blog with suppliers and distributors in the industry. “I am posting them on my personal Facebook page as well as the Promotional Products Professional Facebook group page. I hope that these help tips and creative ideas help others.”