|LOWELL, Mass. – Community organizations throughout the Merrimack Valley are receiving donations of face masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19, thanks to a UMass Lowell volunteer initiative to make and distribute the personal protective equipment. |
The Face Coverings for the Community Campaign has enlisted volunteers including UMass Lowell students, staff, alumni and others to produce the items. The effort has already provided close to 4,000 face masks for more than 15 community service organizations throughout the region, including the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lowell, Lowell Community Health Center, Lowell Senior Center and L’Arche Boston North in Haverhill.
The initiative is a collaboration between UMass Lowell’s Community Relations, the university’s Fashion Makerspace, directed by Diana Coluntino, and the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub, located at 110 Canal St., Lowell. A video about the effort is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDsOca0HfJ8&feature=youtu.be.
Beyond its work on the face coverings project, the makerspace is helping to pioneer next-generation, smart clothing and textiles as part of UMass Lowell’s Fabric Discovery Center at the Innovation Hub. When the need to wear face coverings to slow the spread of the coronavirus became apparent, the makerspace stepped up.
“As the COVID-19 crisis deepened, we quickly rallied our UMass Lowell Innovation Hub and Fashion Makerspace teams to repurpose existing equipment, personnel and financial resources to rapidly design, fabricate and distribute the face coverings to respond to the growing need within the Greater Lowell community. By making these items functional, fashionable, comfortable and re-usable, we know we’re having a positive impact, which makes it all worthwhile,” said Tom O’Donnell, UMass Lowell’s senior director of innovation initiatives.
Each face covering is made with an outer layer of cotton fabric with an internal filter pocket and an athletic-wear liner that wicks away moisture. The fabric is cut in bulk at the makerspace and packaged into kits for volunteers to sew at home. Companies donating textiles and supplies essential to produce the masks include Brine Sports of Concord, Draper Knitting Co., of Canton, Gorgeous Fabrics of Billerica and Brooks Shoes of Seattle, Wash.
The protective wear is making a difference for individuals receiving medical services, according to Clare Gunther, chief advancement officer of Lowell Community Health Center.
“We received 100 face masks through the UMass Lowell Coverings for the Community program, which we were able to provide to patients in need. Thank you for helping us to keep our patients and our community safe during the COVID-19 crisis. This is one of the many ways UMass is a tremendous community partner. Not only are the face coverings practical, they are beautiful, making the need to wear a face covering just a little bit nicer,” she said.
Local families and children are also benefiting, according to Joe Hungler, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lowell.
“The masks donated by UMass Lowell have helped the club family to both feel and be safer. We have distributed them to our families and youth, and they have told us how important it has been to them, as they didn’t know where to get masks – but knew they needed them. Our staff has also used them during our food distribution program and were happy to not wear the same mask daily,” he said.
The project continues to grow, according to UMass Lowell Community Relations Director Patty Coffey.
“Commitment to the community is one of our core values at UMass Lowell and this is a way for us to help our neighbors at this critical time,” she said.
Community organizations in need of the face coverings, or individuals or companies that wish to donate their time or provide supplies, should contact Coffey at Patricia_Coffey@uml.edu. Members of public who wish to donate to the initiative should visit http://alumni.uml.edu/facecoverings.
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe. www.uml.edu