Updated: May 3, 2020
By Stephanie Rosenblatt
A little more than a month ago, near the beginning of the stay-at-home order, Emma Stone, a hairstylist at Sage Salon and new Heights resident, was worried. Her mother, a nurse in the Behavioral Health Services department of College Medical Center, didn’t have the personal protective equipment (PPE) she needed to remain safe while working with clients who had potentially been exposed to COVID-19.
Emma, who has lived and worked in Long Beach for over 10 years, had a lot of contacts in the community so she put out a call over Facebook. Did anyone have any N95 masks, surgical masks, or gloves they could donate to hospital workers? Donations flooded in from contractors and construction companies, tattoo artists, hairstylists, and nail technicians. Local businesses like Bloom Orthodontics also donated.
When those donations stopped, she knew that there were still other people, like her mother, who didn’t have the equipment they needed. So, seeing a need, she started sewing masks.
Emma saw that there were other people in Long Beach who wanted to help. Some of them were connecting on the WeLoveLB Facebook page. WeLoveLB is a local non-profit that focuses on community building. Emma started offering advice to people commenting on the page who were also sewing masks. Soon she and Robin Jones, Volunteer Associate Director of WeLoveLB, started talking to each other and the PPE Posse was born.
Robin, who Emma describes as an experienced organizer and social media master, created the PPE Posse Instagram page and set up a Gmail account email@example.com. Information from anyone who posted to WeLoveLB about wanting to help make masks or who needed masks was collected.
A month in, the PPE Posse has a rotating collection of over 35 volunteers. Local businesses like Robert Kauffman Fabrics and La Finch Fabrics have donated supplies, and the owners of both Javita Jewelry and Jurate, have volunteered their time to help sew and distribute masks.
At the time of this interview (April 20), the PPE Posse has collected and donated 150 N95 masks, 3,000 latex and non-latex gloves, and 2,300 surgical masks. Community volunteers have sewn and distributed 1,200 homemade masks.
These masks, created with largely donated fabric, include pockets for filters and channels for elastic or ties so the user can change them out when they get worn. The masks also include removable nose pieces to ensure a closer fit. At first, the nose pieces were fashioned with pipe cleaners or paper clips, but are now fabricated by the members of Long Beach’s SMART Union Local 105. Daniella Carter, the owner of the Pretty Smart Design Firm, has been making ear savers using her 3-D printer.
The main difference between the PPE Posse and other volunteer groups making masks is that the Posse donates directly to the individual requesting the masks – not to the institution.
The Posse has provided masks for healthcare workers all over Long Beach as well as to people who work in other essential jobs like restaurants and grocery stores. You stand a good chance of seeing these masks on your Amazon or USPS workers, or when you visit Gelson’s, Ralphs, Whole Foods Market, or Trader Joe’s.
Anyone who lives or works in Long Beach and is working at an essential business can request masks by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. This is also the email to use if you would like to volunteer.