Jeannine Alsous, ’13, and Peter Genovese, ’14, are on a mission: They are determined to make sure no first responder, doctor, nurse, or hospital/medical employee in Erie and Niagara counties has to go without the masks they need to do their jobs safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
In March, Genovese came up with the idea to “protect our protectors” and began posting on Facebook that he was hoping to collect and make masks. When Alsous saw the posting, she reached out to him because she knew designers who could help him with the project.
Both Alsous, a Youngstown, N.Y., native who is a creative communications specialist at Person Centered Services, and Genovese, who was raised in Lewiston and now lives in Sunnyvale, Calif., where he is a program manager at Google, have personal reasons to become involved in the venture. Both have family and friends in the medical field, including Genovese’s mother, who is an ICU nurse.
“We need to be able to protect them and save their lives,” the two said. “It is completely unacceptable to us that they do not have the equipment they need to do their job every day and, even worse, it puts them and their patients in harm’s way.”
The two partnered with local designers to create the cotton masks and set up social media platforms and a crowdfunding campaign through GoFundMe to support their efforts. The first masks were made following a design developed by their volunteers in Rochester, N.Y., and one that JoAnn Fabric and Craft Stores made available online, to which they added extra layers of interfacing for protection. Now, they are working with engineers to improve on those, using Genovese’s experience in product design to help with the process.
“We have recently purchased material that will provide a much higher quality design that should be able to be mass produced, but also provides a higher level of protection that medical personnel need,” he explained. “The interfacing we were using is good, but we want to take it from good to great.”
Masks have already been delivered to several area hospitals and healthcare providers, and the two, who financed the first 2,000 masks themselves, are working to fulfill more than 60 other requests. They are hoping that their fundraising efforts will be successful so that they can continue to purchase the materials to make the masks, which cost about a dollar each to produce. In just a few short weeks, they’ve already raised more than 25% of their $20,000 goal, although they plan to continue to make masks as long as the need is there.
“We believe we need to make as many masks as humanly possible until this crisis is over,” they said. “Our anticipation is, if we can get all the material in the local area and every person with a sewing machine to make as many masks as they are able to, that is success. We want to help as many people as we can during this operation.”
While financial contributions to their cause are gratefully accepted, Alsous and Genovese are also looking for recommendations for suppliers for elastic and interfacing, donations of cotton, volunteers who can help in sewing masks, and people to share their message on social media.
“We need to each step up, stand tall, and fight back against this virus,” they said. “If we work together, if we do something amazing right now, we may just be able to make a significant enough difference to turn the tides.”
You can contact Alsous and Genovese through their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OperationProtectOurProtectors/ or through their GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/operationprotectourprotectors.