‘Raise money, buy masks, give them away, repeat’

Local initiative seeks to fundraise for and donate KN95 face masks to frontline workers.

Abigail Hammarlund prepares to deliver a box of 1,000 KN95 masks to local businesses and frontline workers.

Masks MV, a fundraiser recently established by Island attorney Erik Hammarlund, is garnering donations in order to provide KN95 masks to frontline workers and businesses.

According to the GoFundMe page, the initiative has raised around $700 of its $20,000 goal.

In a phone interview with The Times, Hammarlund said that although KN95 masks and other high-quality personal protective equipment is available to the general public, it can often be expensive, and buying masks online involves a good deal of research and vetting.

After seeing frontline workers with cloth masks, bandanas, and old, single-use surgical masks, Hammarlund said he wanted to find a way to get KN95s out to as many people who need them as possible.

Hammarlund said he had a science background before becoming a lawyer, and is regularly following the latest updates to scientific journals and other public health reports on his own time.

“I read this type of information all the time and research it; I am very interested in it,” he said. “I figured this is a problem I could help solve.”

Hammarlund researched reputable companies that sell the KN95s in bulk, ordered 1,250 of them to start off, and then distributed them to schools, businesses, and frontline workers.

After he ran out of his own money to put toward the effort, he began raising money online, and placing small posters in shop windows where masks were distributed, asking folks to donate to the cause, as well using a QR code scanner that links to the GoFundMe.

“At that point I had managed to track down an even cheaper bulk supplier,” Hammarlund said, and added that another 1,000 masks just arrived, which he will distribute in the coming days. “Everyone really wants them, everyone is excited.”

He said he drives around town with his daughter, down Main Street in Vineyard Haven, Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, and other pedestrian thoroughfares, asking businesses if they need masks.

“Many businesses don’t have an adequate supply of quality masks,” Hammarlund explained. “Even frontline workers don’t have enough — I took my kid to get a coronavirus test at the high school, and saw someone working in the parking lot not wearing a mask. They said, ‘We are out,’ so I said, ‘Take what we have in the car, we will be back with 100 more tomorrow.’”

Without the hardworking business employees and frontline workers who sustain our Island, Hammarlund said, “we have nothing,” which is why it’s essential to keep workers healthy and comfortable in their environments.

According to Hammarlund, his motto boils down to three simple steps: Raise money, buy KN95s from a reputable online retailer, then distribute those masks to local businesses, teachers, school bus drivers, cashiers, and more. 

“Right now, we can’t give out as many masks as we would like. I could go into Bobby B’s right now and I could give them 30 masks, but really, I should be able to give them hundreds,” Hammarlund said.

And because there is no overhead associated with the crowdfunding initiative, Hammarlund said, he can spend more time researching the best and most affordable masks to provide to public workers.

Eventually, he said, he wants to raise enough money to create more distribution centers, and potentially hire a few drivers to go around to businesses and distribute the masks. “What I would like to do is give a box of 1,000 to the Food Pantry so they can give them away to frontline workers when they come in to shop,” Hammarlund said.

With mixed public health information surrounding masks from the outset of the pandemic, Hammarlund said, it can be hard to know what to look for when ordering masks, or even when buying them in stores on-Island.

“Unless you are a bit of a science geek, and unless you have time to do this research, it’s not really clear what you are supposed to do,” he said. 

And with businesses struggling to stay afloat, Hammarlund said, going online and looking for the right kind of masks can be daunting for workers and owners. 

“Even though I know I am buying them from a reputable supplier, I go through and randomly pick ones out after I buy them, and scratch off the counterfeiting sticker to verify them. It takes time, it takes effort,” he said.

For Hammarlund, providing masks to those who need them the most is an essential step toward healing the battered Island economy, and ensuring that folks have access to the necessary tools to protect themselves and others.

“Our entire Island economy relies on us not being considered unsafe. If you can imagine spending around $20,000 on masks, the Islandwide response to this could be huge,” Hammarlund said. “I really just want to help people help others.”