By: Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff
Lynnwood City councilmembers Julieta Altamirano-Crosby and Shannon Sessions teamed up with the Lynnwood Food Bank to make homemade face coverings available to residents and re-opening small businesses to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The two elected officials, also food bank volunteers, have collected at least 1,000 homemade masks through requests to the Lynnwood community who have already been crafting them.
Director of the Lynnwood Food Bank Alissa Jones says that the donations were much needed by community members and have allowed people without access to protective face coverings a designated place to receive them.
“We saw one person who was wearing a two-layer sweat sock over his mouth,” Jones commented. “We were able to give him something a little more productive and less uncomfortable for him to be safe.”
The community-based effort originated from a conversation during the April 20 city council business meeting, where Public Affairs Officer Julie Moore announced the city’s Emergency Operations Center ordered 500 cotton face coverings, with plans to purchase an additional 1,500 to distribute to city employees upon their return to work. Councilmember George Hurst responded to the announced order, asking if the city had also considered purchasing a surplus of face coverings for residents without access.
Recounting the discussion, Sessions says that she was not in favor of using the city’s general fund to purchase face masks for the community noting that she had mentioned it “was not necessary, because there are so many individuals and organizations using their crafting skills to make face coverings.”
With the city unable to officially orchestrate the donation and distribution of homemade face masks due to liability reasons, Sessions and Altamirano-Crosby rolled-up their sleeves and worked together to individually contact organizations and individuals already producing masks.
After connecting with several community groups requesting homemade mask donations, within 24 hours Sessions was contacted by four different crafters interested in participating, receiving over 200 masks within 48 hours.
“There are so many community members who want to help, and I am so grateful to them for their willingness to help,” said Sessions. “They’re already making them, but they just didn’t know where to put them. They’re so happy when they realize they can be a part of something that’s going to get them directly to the people that need them or want them.”
A group of community residents contacted by Altamirano-Crosby provided a major boost in reaching the food bank’s initial goal of accumulating 800 to 1,000 masks. Lily Bartis-Wlazlak, Dana Wlazlak, and Sabrina Bartis donated 600 cloth masks to the food bank and are continuing to make them.
“I believe that as a group and as a team is how you change things,” remarked Altamirano-Crosby.
As a Washington State Commissioner of Hispanic Affairs, Altamirano-Crosby’s interest in facilitating mask donations came after observing many members of the state’s underserved communities haven’t been wearing masks due to a lack of access and/or communication tools to understand the protective preventative measure.
The Washington State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are recommending that people wear a face-covering in public to help prevent the virus from spreading between people interacting within close proximity.
Lynnwood’s racial and ethnic minority groups, like the Latinx community, are being hit especially hard by the COVID-19. Data from the Snohomish Health District (SHD) presents an increased rate of coronavirus infection amongst these communities compared to the county’s Caucasian population. The Hispanic population is currently the most vulnerable group, according to the SHD’s publicized statistics.
“I think that COVID-19 has shined a harsh light on the adversities of the communities of color,” remarked Altamirano-Crosby. “I’m sad, and seeing the graphs breaks my heart.”
The increased rate of infection amongst racial and ethnic minority groups are being experienced across the country notes Altamirano-Crosby, but she feels responsible for taking action against it within the city she serves as an official.
“I know it’s not only Lynnwood but at least in Lynnwood, we can do something to educate ourselves and acknowledge the demographics that we serve. I asked myself what kind of people I serve to identify their needs,” explained Altamirano-Crosby. “To me, that is what is essential.”
“You don’t have to be a person in need to get them,” explained Sessions. “You might just be a person who doesn’t know where to get them, and not necessarily someone who just doesn’t have the means.”
While safety precautions and protocols have been in place to prepare and deliver face coverings to the food bank, to keep everyone as safe as possible, Sessions highly recommends that people wash their new mask before wearing it.
Lynnwood residents and small businesses can pick up the free homemade masks in child and/or adult sizes at the Lynnwood Food Bank at 5320 176th St SW, Lynnwood, WA 98037.