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Calgary man supplies 20,000 face masks to city’s vulnerable populations

Calgary man providing surgical masks to those in need
WATCH: A Calgary man has found a way to supply over 20,000 high-quality surgical masks to people in need. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, he's teamed up the U of C to help educate vulnerable people on the importance of wearing protective equipment.

A Calgary man is supplying over 20,000 face masks to help protect the city’s vulnerable populations from the spread of COVID-19.

It’s hard for people living at Calgary homeless shelters to maintain social distancing, and with at the first COVID-19 cases at the Drop in Centre and at the Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope earlier this week, masks are even more critical.

READ MORE: More people at Calgary homeless shelters test positive for COVID-19

“We have had a lot of clients before we started continuously masking who would ask for masks and we didn’t have enough to provide,” said Samantha Lowe, health and wellness manager at the Mustard Seed.

Samantha Lowe Health and Wellness manager at the Mustard Seed with box of surgical masks
Samantha Lowe Health and Wellness manager at the Mustard Seed with box of surgical masks. Carolyn Kury de Castillo/Global News

That’s where the work of Chris Healey comes in. Healey, who has a PhD in quantum nanoscience, certainly isn’t a disease specialist but the University of Calgary graduate runs a small electronics company and his supplier in Hong Kong has been able to provide high quality surgical face masks.

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“It’s simply because of that. I could get the masks. I could get them here. I had to help out,” Healey said.  “At this point it’s pretty much a full-time volunteer job.”

READ MORE: Calgary disability sector struggles to access personal protective equipment

Healey has now organized the delivery of over 20,000 masks to ten Calgary agencies.

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He is also working with the University of Calgary on an education campaign that will involve information posters going up at facilities with vulnernable populations.

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“A really important part of Dr. Healy’s program is the educational component and making it part of a broad public health campaign, not just supplying masks. Because there is the potential for masks when supplied alone to accomplish minimal benefit and perhaps even make it worse,” said Dr. Chris Mody, Head of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases Cumming School of Medicine at the  University of Calgary.

Staff and clients at the Mustard Seed are thankful for the masks.

“By providing masks it is something that really makes them feel valued. It makes them feel safe and it makes them feel like we are thinking about them as well,” Lowe said.

READ MORE: Veteran Calgary seamstress makes protective masks during pandemic: ‘She’s a queen’

Healey is now partnering with the United Way to deliver free masks to families who have health conditions that make them more at risk.

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He said he is working with one of the participating organizations, Cerebral Palsy Kids and Families and predicts that within the next couple of days the participating organizations will be able to email a client to let them know that the masks are available for pick up and delivery.

“So you can imagine the family has a seven-year-old with cerebral palsy, we will be able to supply a box of kid size masks for that child and a box of adult masks for the family as well,” Healey said.

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Healey says his supplier in Hong Kong has capacity to provide thousands more masks.

So far the project has been covered by donations and a small group of volunteers.

“I think it’s important that we care about our communities and we try to look out for each other. This is the most difficult time of any of our lives and it’s really important for us to realize that we’re all in this together and support everyone in our community,” Healey said.