Ch@t: As requests pour in, Masks for Many effort grows

Posted 5/22/20

Masks for Many, a project created by local performer and playwright Mike Wiley in conjunction with the Chatham Arts Council and designed to create face masks for vital workers, kicked off in April. …

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Ch@t: As requests pour in, Masks for Many effort grows

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Masks for Many, a project created by local performer and playwright Mike Wiley in conjunction with the Chatham Arts Council and designed to create face masks for vital workers, kicked off in April. Since many workers employed at medical facilities, grocery stores, drug stores and in delivery services don’t readily have access to masks, Wiley and the CAC partnered with a consortium of concerned citizens to fill that need — seeking donations to cover materials costs and paying a small stipend to artists to create cloth masks for donation to local businesses, essential workers, healthcare facilities, and more. This week, we speak with Chatham Arts Council Executive Director Cheryl Chamblee about the growth of the work, and about a recent request of more than 1,400 masks.

What’s been the response to Masks for Many since its launch?

Inspiring. Folks from all over the country really responded to a beautiful video message Mike Wiley created to spread the word. It’s been moving to see that response — an outpouring of giving that’s made up of this wide audience that loves and respects the theater work of this artist who calls Chatham home. And last week, folks inside Chatham County began to respond in earnest. Chatham has one of the largest infection rates per capita in North Carolina, and now we’re seeing notes with folks’ giving, saying that they’re grateful to have a specific way to help.

Which organizations — and which people — have you been able to help?

We’ve been able to get masks to nonprofits like CORA (Chatham Outreach Alliance), Communities In Schools of Chatham County, and Chatham Trades — as well as a few small local businesses with vulnerable vital workers and some family members of vital workers who needed protection. The priority is vulnerable vital workers — particularly our black and brown Chatham residents. And now we’ve gotten large orders that we’re working to fill.

That large request — 1,440 masks...tell us about how that request happened, and your initial reaction…

That 1,440 number is actually made up of three large requests — from Chatham County Schools, the local NAACP and the Hispanic Liaison. In all three cases, the Masks for Many team reached out during the creation of the project to let leadership in these groups know what we were working toward, but we didn’t know how deep their needs might be. And requests were a bit quiet for a while — and then three of those requests came within a day or two of each other, and our team had emails flying back and forth basically saying, “Are the artists at the ready? Then, we’d better get some more money in and make this happen, y’all!”

We’re not glad folks need these facecoverings, but we are so glad these groups have reached out. CCS is doing a remarkable job of distributing food to families across Chatham who are vulnerable in many ways; Superintendent Dr. Derrick Jordan and Chief Operations Officer Chris Blice agreed that many of those same families need face coverings. And the local NAACP and Hispanic Liaison will reach black and brown communities with these masks in ways that no other organizations can.

Part of Masks for Many, of course, is the need for funds. How is the fundraising coming along? And how can people help?

Right now, we’ve raised right at $5,000 of our original $10,000 goal. If people are considering making a gift to Masks for Many, we’d sure encourage them to do it now. And we’d love for folks to share the giving opportunity with their friends and relatives, too. This is a time-sensitive situation. The earlier the masks get worn, the better.

What will a $10 donation do?

If you give $10, you’ve made a cloth facecovering for someone in our community who really, really needs one. That somebody might be the person who is bagging your groceries, or she might be the person who is processing your food, or he might be the 8-year-old son of workers who can’t afford to stay home to stay safe. And with that same $10, you’ve paid an artist who is furloughed from work due to COVID-19.

It’s difficult to look too far ahead or predict what’s going to happen, but how do you see Masks for Many working and evolving in the coming weeks and months?

Such a great question. We know that facecoverings will be the recommendation for quite a while to come. Heck, in some industries, they may become a permanent fixture. We plan to continue to get facecoverings to our vulnerable neighbors and dollars to our out-of-work artists as long as there is community need and community generosity to fill that need. And still, Masks for Many is not a forever project. It’s most urgent right now.

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