Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Emergency Operations Center has been grateful to the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster for their strong collaboration in helping to meet various needs across our county. Our heartfelt thanks go out to the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County and the collaborative efforts of the community partners who helped to distribute over 100,000 FEMA face masks throughout Western North Carolina.
This was a huge project with many moving parts. “By working collaboratively with a network of over 20 organizations, together we were able to ensure its overall success,” states Volunteer Engagement Director Michelle Bennett. “Among other things, organizations helped to set up request forms, translate communications into Spanish and Russian, disseminate information about the availability of masks across the region, provide warehousing of the masks for free, and actually distribute those masks equitably in 18 different counties. All of this was done in the span of three weeks.”
From United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County:
When our federal government announced Project America Strong aimed at distributing hundreds of thousands of reusable face coverings throughout the nation to support communities through COVID-19, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County stepped up to request over 100,000 for Western North Carolina. Volunteer Engagement Director Michelle Bennett immediately put the call out to regional nonprofit leaders, touching base with specific organizations to ensure masks were distributed equitably to high-risk communities, rural communities, and communities of color disproportionately affected by the impacts of the coronavirus.
Within four days, 410 nonprofit and grassroots organizations representing 18 WNC counties submitted requests totaling over 130,000 masks. To help meet the demand, State of Franklin Health Council provided an additional 50,000 masks. Nantahala Health Foundation and Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation stepped in as integral partners in sorting and distributing to the westernmost counties to ensure access throughout the region.
Distributing Masks Equitably
Asheville Buncombe Institute of Parity Achievement (ABIPA), was one of those partners who stepped up to take on the work of distributing thousands of reusable face masks to underserved communities. "ABIPA is dedicated to improving the health of African Americans and other underserved populations in Asheville and surrounding counties," shares Executive Director JeWana Grier-McEachin. "This opportunity gave us the chance to really respond in a way that ABIPA responds around prevention because masks are a part of prevention." When COVID-19 hit, ABIPA received a grant from the Community Foundation of WNC to provide 1,000 masks. In order to further the equitable scope, they asked local African Americans to make masks, allowing them to leverage a partnership between Dogwood Health Trust for in-kind mask donations. 13,000 masks have already been distributed by ABIPA and an additional 7,000 masks from United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County will be distributed in surrounding counties.