In March, the COVID-19 pandemic caused shortages of N95 masks and other personal protective equipment. In response to the need, a group of neighbors in Somerset County organized a team and began making and distributing handmade surgical masks, caps, and accessories.
“We are your neighbors, your child’s preschool teacher, your fitness instructor, an immigrant who just got her citizenship, skilled professionals, mothers, fathers, children, and young high school students all using sewing skills, 3D technology, and business experience to respond to the needs of our community," explains Jennifer Loughran, Founder and Director of The Mask Squad Somerset NJ.
The idea to sew face masks came when Jennifer was thinking about the vulnerability of her medically fragile son and how her children needed her and her husband to stay healthy. From there it quickly evolved to wanting to help not only the medical community, but all the front-liners who were keeping the supply chain open, all of the parents of medically vulnerable children, caretakers, and the elderly who were scared to leave their houses. She wanted to help everybody in the community.
Jennifer shared her big vision with her friend, Stacey Friedlander, and together they started a Facebook group and invited community members to participate. They quickly found out they were not the only ones who shared the vision. As they began posting their efforts daily, friends and neighbors reached out. Some were already sewing facemasks or wanted to start, while others wanted to volunteer in other ways.
For example, Suzanne Hollywood and her son Joe do not have sewing experience, but they have taken on the job of directing volunteer drivers like Marie Ivy to collect masks and then distribute them to the community.
Elissa Muller was tasked with creating a webpage and updates it with stories about all of the incredible squad members. The innovative website is a one-stop-shop for anyone in Somerset County to come and find info on these masks, as well as volunteer opportunities, and other local services offering help to the community.
Jennifer explains, “At the time, I had no idea how big it would get or how incredible the community response would be. Every day we are in direct communication with respiratory therapists, nurses, and doctors who are giving us feedback about the designs we are making. We have an incredibly talented woman, Jessica Levitt, who has painstakingly taken on the role of testing patterns and creating tutorials.”
Masks made by the squad have gone everywhere from local hospitals such as RWJ New Brunswick and Somerset to care facilities like Eastern Star and to local police departments and rescue squads, as well as to individual citizens going for medical treatments.
Currently, the squad has over 500 volunteer members of all ages and backgrounds and continues to grow daily. As a team, they are able to produce over 100 masks a day. This remarkable group is putting in a remarkable effort to keep our community healthy and #BridgewaterSTRONG.
As of early May, the squad has made and distributed over 5,000 masks, surpassing its original goal of 1,000. In order to keep up with requests, the group is utilizing a GoFundMe campaign to continue to purchase and distribute supplies to volunteers to help make more masks. To date, the GoFundme campaign has raised over $10,000.
The GoFundMe campaign, along with other information on how to become a volunteer can be found at themasksquad.com