Rotary District 7170, which includes 44 clubs across a seven-county region, partnered recently with the office of State Sen. Fred Akshar, R-Afton, to distribute 11,000 masks to area nonprofit organizations and essential small businesses.
District Finance Committee Chair Zoe van der Meulen, of Unadilla, said the district, representing Rotary clubs in Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Otsego, Tioga and Tompkins counties, contributed $5,500 from its reserve funds toward the purchase of masks in early April.
“The district itself donated the money,” van der Meulen said. “Akshar is in the Rotary Club of Binghamton, and he put feelers out for … access to masks and wanted to know if there were community organizations that could help buy them, so that’s how it started.”
According to a May 19 press release from Akshar’s office, additional funding was provided by an anonymous donor and the COVID-19 Fund Alliance, which includes the United Way of Broome County and several Southern Tier foundations.
The press release said state police began distributing the masks to county emergency services offices on Tuesday.
Backing the initiative, van der Meulen said, aligns with Rotary’s goals.
“We put the word out to our clubs and members about what some of our community needs were, and the big ones were food insecurity and masks,” she said. She said the district also donated $3,000 apiece to three regional food banks.
“A lot of people don’t know that Rotary started with businesses and that there’s this idea of vocational service in Rotary,” van der Meulen said. “So, sharing what we know from our business experience with other people to benefit our communities’ economic well-being … and help businesses that are small and might not be able to get masks is well within the mission of Rotary.”
Though van der Meulen said it is “still too early to know” the impact the mask distribution will have on local nonprofits and essential small businesses, the district plans to monitor its effect.
“Now that it’s worked, there’s talk of doing this again, if there is a need,” she said. “We’re trying to gauge that need right now and if we see there is one, that’s something our district and our clubs will react to. We’re just all trying to figure out ways we can help.”
According to the release, “masks will be allocated to essential, front-line small businesses (of) 50 employees or less and nonprofit (organizations) with a demonstrated need of three-ply masks for their employees to safely conduct operations.”
The statement says a maximum of 50 masks will be supplied per request.
Barbara Ann Heegan president of the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce and a member of Otsego County’s COVID-19 Economic Development Task Force, said she was “thrilled” to learn of the effort.
“It is such a need that we’re hearing from small businesses and it’s really important to be guiding business to these resources," she said. "We just want to help spread information and that’s the work of the task force and the Support Otsego (website) and the Support Oneonta site.
“The masks are en route,” Heegan said, “and, as soon as they arrive, we want to connect people to the emergency services coordinator. The businesses just need to give them a contact name and number and the number of masks they’re requesting. Through COVID-19, we’ve been helping all businesses — anyone that is looking for assistance with navigating the regulations. We have the information and the training and we’re happy to share it.”
Based on input from the chamber’s 720 members and nonmembers, Heegan said, she expects the need for masks to continue. The release said 1,000 masks were distributed to Otsego County, 1,250 to Delaware County and 1,750 to Chenango County.
“I know the need will be greatest moving forward,” Heegan said. “The 1,000 masks we’ve been allocated will go quickly and there will be a definite need for more. We’re going to want to see other opportunities for more PPE to be given out.”
For more information, contact Heegan at 607-434-3130 or visit supportotsego.com or supportoneonta.com. Otsego County Emergency Services can be reached at 607-547-4328 and Delaware County Emergency Services is at 607-832-5600.