A registered nurse from the Kingston, Ont., region is working to help put quality COVID-19 masks into the hands of those who can least afford them.
It was about mid-December as the Omicron variant was becoming the dominant coronavirus train in Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington that Deb Lefebvre started a GoFundMe account to purchase N95 masks to distribute to vulnerable populations.
“The initiative came out of extreme need,” said Lefebvre, referring to a presentation she gave to a local school board last fall about the importance of N95 masks.
“It was very clear to me the public – the general public – did not understand that COVID is airborne, and I have been following the science and the evidence on it and know that N95 respirators are the only defence that we can apply to our face that filters the air that we breathe in and out.”
Working with the president and CEO of the United Way of KFL&A Bhavana Varma, Lefebvre has been able to connect with a number of local agencies that work with vulnerable and marginalized populations.
“They all need N95s, so as the money comes in we send them out,” said Lefebvre.
She says they’ve managed to distribute several thousand masks to a number of organizations like Lionhearts, the Integrated Care Hub, and Addictions and Mental Health Services.
Along with providing better protection than surgical masks, N95s are reusable, according to Lefebvre.
“Not only are we providing the N95 respirators but we also provide paper bags with each respirator, so when not in use the respirator can be kept in the paper bag to dry out,” said Lefebvre, noting the bags also help prevent the masks from becoming soiled.
The need and desire for the masks are great, says Lefebvre.
Since starting the fundraising campaign she’s been contacted by agencies in a number of other regions.
“(In) the GTA, we’ve connected with Cathy Crowe who’s a well-known social and health equity advocate. She connected us with homeless shelters for refugee women and children,” said Lefebvre.
Unfortunately, the demand is greater than the supply and the funds Lefebvre has access to.
“I can receive an email from a supplier – because I’ve put ourselves on various supply lists – that an allotment has come in and within minutes they’re sold out,” said Lefebvre.
She says she’ll keep her campaign going as long as funds roll in, or until provincial and federal governments step up to improve access.
“It’s truly a government responsibility to ensure that all people have access to an N95 and until that need is met by our government we’re helping to fill that gap,” said Lefebvre.
She says she’s also been contacted by organizations in Brockville and Ottawa seeking N95 masks.