HYDE PARK — Communities hit hard by coronavirus in Chicago and India are set to receive thousands of reusable cloth masks thanks to an effort backed by three local nonprofits.
The Masks Without Borders fundraising campaign runs through Jan. 15, looking to collect $20,000 to cover the costs of making and donating 8,000 to 10,000 masks. If the campaign exceeds its goal, extra funds will be split three ways with project leaders the Soondra Foundation, WORK+SHELTER and Chicago Fair Trade.
The campaign has raised more than $11,500 so far. To donate, click here.
Each mask costs about $2.50 to produce, including the cost of materials and paying seamstresses in India to create them.
Chicago residents served by the Night Ministry, Center on Halsted, Chicago Lighthouse, the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago and Howard Brown Health will receive shipments of masks, said Soondra Foundation CEO Gayatri Mathur.
The Night Ministry will give away masks through its health outreach bus, which visits six locations every week, as well as its street medicine team, which serves encampments, street corners and other areas with people facing homelessness and poverty, communications manager Burke Patten said.
“We’re out there on the streets providing free basic health care, as well as food and survival supplies and hygiene items,” Patten said. “Providing masks for the folks that we serve has really been an important part of our mission.”
In India, masks will be handed out through partner organizations like Teach for India, where fellows will give them to students in their classrooms and the surrounding communities.
The two-layer, organic cotton masks with a pocket for a removable filter are made using scraps of garments produced in WORK+SHELTER’s Delhi-based facility.
“These are scraps that we don’t have anything else to do with,” said Theresa VanderMeer, CEO of the Andersonville nonprofit. “This is waste material that is getting a second life as mask.”
The 35 seamstresses of WORK+SHELTER hold full-time, permanent positions and make a daily wage of 500 rupees, or about $6.81, after working their way through a paid training program.
That’s compared to the $1 per day typically made by independent seamstresses in Delhi, Vandermeer said, and about 25 percent above the minimum recommended by Good World Solutions‘ fair wage calculator.
The first 200 masks were delivered to the Night Ministry and the Center on Halsted last week, Mathur said.
The foundation’s main focus is providing cash micro-grants to India’s working poor to sustain them through medical emergencies, Mathur said. Masks Without Borders is the organization’s first U.S. campaign.
“The disparities that we see in India are very obvious, and Latino and African American communities [in the United States] are much more affected by COVID,” Mathur said. “I live here and wanted to do something for communities hard-hit here, too. I reached out to organizations I felt had the same values — whose missions are slightly different, but resonated in what we wanted to do.”
Mathur started the Soondra Foundation as a member of the University of Chicago’s Polsky Exchange. She’s continued to hire UChicago students who “are really powering this organization,” she said.
“It’s a value, I feel, to mentor and develop the next generation of social change leaders,” Mathur said. “It’s a wonderful thing for the Soondra Foundation, these students who are so smart and bring their own creativity … which is for me like an electric charge.”
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.