Masking up London schoolkids with quality face coverings is aim of new GoFundMe

Mary Harrison via Twitter

A new GoFundMe campaign aimed at getting high filtration, respirator-style masks onto the faces of London, Ont., school children has raised more than $3,000 since it launched eight days ago as students across the province made the return to in-person learning amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The campaign is using the donations to purchase pediatric N95-equivalent masks that will be packaged into kits and distributed in the city, prioritizing schools that have been hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the GoFundMe.

N95-type respirator masks offer better protection against COVID-19 and the highly transmissible Omicron variant compared to other face coverings, but as a result of overwhelming demand, they’re harder to obtain, and knockoffs proliferate online marketplaces. They’re also more expensive than other options, resulting in both a time and a financial barrier for many families.

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“We were really driven by our understanding of recent research that has demonstrated that individuals, families and communities who are systemically marginalized and underserved have really been the hardest hit during COVID-19,” said Mary Harrison, one of the campaign’s co-founders, in an interview Monday.

“So to reduce strain on families who are already bearing the greatest burden of the pandemic, we saw an opportunity to crowdsource for funding in order to support our neighbours across the city in accessing these resources for their kids.”

Harrison, a curriculum consultant at Fanshawe College, is one of four Londoners involved in running the campaign alongside Andrea Legato, Mandy Penny, and Kathryn Adams-Sloan. Since launching on Jan. 16, at least 51 donors have contributed to the initiative, raising $3,075 as of early Monday afternoon.

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Harrison said the campaign had so far purchased a variety of masks, with the focus being N95s or equivalent. As well, the campaign had also purchased level three surgical masks along with material to make fitters that secure the masks tightly against one’s face.

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“Right now, we either have in our possession or are in transit about 1,500 masks, as well as some other materials,” she said. As of Monday, the group had created just under 100 kits containing four CA-N95 pediatric masks, paper bags to reuse the masks, and an information sheet. Translators are being sought to make the information sheet available in other languages.

“We are currently working with some organizations around the city who serve families directly,” to distribute the kits, she said.

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During the interview, Harrison apologized and said she was not yet able to name the groups publicly as the campaign had not gotten permission to do so. If and when permission is granted, that information, along with updates on where donations and kits are going, will be shared via the GoFundMe and on social media through the #MaskUpLondonOnt hashtag, she said.

“Our distribution strategy will kind of evolve as the campaign continues to gain traction. We’re hoping that in addition to working with community partners, … we might be able to do a kind of pop-up model in outdoor neighbourhood hub spaces around the city where we can distribute materials to people directly,” Harrison said.

“In terms of deciding which neighbourhoods to target for that initiative, we have been in touch with school board trustees as well as health care professionals, (and) social workers in the city, so we’ll determine where the greatest need might be for those materials and we’ll publicize it as well as we possibly can when we go.”

Those involved with the campaign have all agreed to continue running it as long as it is needed, Harrison said, adding that the GoFundMe will remain open to receiving donations to purchase and distribute more masks to local families.

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“We know that masks are often framed as an individual responsibility, but we also recognize that means that the expense of them has been downloaded onto individuals and families,” she said.

“We see it as a problem that cost to access high filtration masks is a barrier, and also the time. There’s a lot of pressure on the supply chain right now. So we hope to help alleviate that barrier of needing to track down the supply as it’s available.”

Along with the return of in-person learning, the campaign also comes as the province has halted publishing information on new COVID-19 cases in schools due to a restricted testing policy.

The province is now sharing data on absences online, whether or not they are related to the virus, and families will be notified once 30 per cent of students and staff are absent.

More information about the campaign can be found on the GoFundMe page.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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