Mom launches 'Masks for Heroes' website that matches requests with donors and volunteers

Becky Vieira says she felt helpless when she found out parents at her son's preschool who are doctors and nurses were in need of personal protective equipment (PPE). Though she helped to spread the word, asking friends and family to donate any masks or other equipment they might have, it didn't feel like enough.

As a mom blogger with a social media following and connections with other bloggers, Vieira says she decided to reach out beyond her local community.



"I turned to Instagram where I could leverage the platform I've built, and also connect with my network of other mom bloggers. I started by asking if we could all source and share PPE requests from family and friends, and the response was so great that I created a separate Instagram account dedicated to the cause. Within a day I had someone offer to build us a website, and by day four we were receiving international requests, had nine engineers working on it, designers, a digital marketing agency and a PR team join the cause. All pro bono. And we're not done yet -- we have an updated website in the works that will launch soon."

The initiative is called Masks for Heroes. Through the website, hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities can submit requests for PPE with delivery/drop-off instructions. Volunteers and donors can then go to the website to see what's needed and help fill those needs.

"Donors can see exactly who needs PPE and choose where to send it, such as a local hospital in their area," says Vieira. "They know exactly where their donation is going. We help requesters and donors meet and collaborate."

Vieira says every PPE request is verified before it is listed on the website. Currently there are more than 200 requests from medical facilities listed, with 50 more awaiting verification. There's even an interactive map to make it easy to find the needs of facilities in a specific area.

"We do not accept monetary donations and we are not involved in any monetary transactions," Vieira adds, saying that there are scammers out there trying to profit off of the pandemic. This initiative is simply matches up the specific needs of medical professionals with people willing to provide those specific needs.

Since most of us don't have PPE lying around our homes, that often means making and donating homemade masks. Not an ideal solution, but better than nothing in most cases.

Individuals and companies have quickly stepped up to help. Adrienn Braun, a fashion designer and owner of Adrienn Braun Bridal In Hoboken, New Jersey and her team are sewing approximately 100-150 masks a day. They've already shipped out 550 masks and have plans to make 2000 more.

A clothing manufacturer in Virginia, Kurdistan Godani, has sewn 300 masks so far. She's delivered around 100 of those already and plans to make "hundreds more." She says since she can't sell clothes right now, she'll use her fabric to sew masks.

Free People (from Urban Outfitters) is also taking part in the fulfillment, sewing masks for facilities requesting them.

"I am still in shock at how far we've come, and that we're being supported like this," says Vieira. "I'm so proud of the women I know who helped raise the initial awareness that led us to where we are today. Never doubt the power of moms."

Anyone who has a little time to spare can get involved:

"We encourage anyone with N95 masks or other PPE supplies—gowns, surgical masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, etc.—to donate. Check your garage, look in your attic, search your house for any masks you may have forgotten you have. Ask your neighbors, friends and family to do the same. Call local construction companies! Many facilities are accepting hand sewn masks, and we have patterns and tutorials on our website, masksforheroes.com.

If someone doesn't have masks and can't sew (like me!), they can help us raise awareness of this situation. Follow us on social media, share posts, tag their friends. Share local requests to your social media pages and community groups. Anything helps."

Vieira points out that there is some misinformation out there about homemade masks and their effectiveness during this pandemic. "People are saying it's not worth making them as they don't protect against the virus," she says. "But these masks are often used for non-vital patients to free up PPE for others or to cover masks that healthcare workers are having to refuse—because many are being asked to wear single use masks for an entire week. At least they can wash the hand sewn masks between uses."

"And yes, in other cases they actually are being used as the only protection," she adds. "They are a last resort for many health care workers, and people need to realize that's where we are: at the last resort."

Check out the list of PPE needs in your area on the Masks for Heroes website and find out how you can help. Instructions for making masks can also be found on the site.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

The difference between a politician and a public servant may be a matter of semantics, but when it comes to getting legislation passed that actually helps people, the contrast is stark.

Texas Representative James Talarico is on a mission to get his constituents the life-saving medicine they need. The 31-year-old lawmaker has just introduced legislation that would cap the price of insulin—a medicine people with type 1 diabetes need to live, which has become unaffordable for many—at $50 a month.

The mission is personal for Talarico, as he nearly died three years ago when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

He shared his story on Twitter:

"In May 2018, I was a healthy 28-year-old running for the Texas House. I decided to walk the entire length of my district and hold town halls along the way. I hike Big Bend every year, so I wasn't concerned about a 25 mile walk...

But halfway through the walk, I began feeling nauseous and fatigued. Before the town hall in Hutto, I vomited in the bathroom."

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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