By Page H. Gifford
There is a mask distribution campaign underway by a local aid group known as FluCares. Founder Sharon Harris, former sheriff Ryant Washington, and others are working with community groups to provide free masks to Fluvanna neighbors in an effort to keep everyone healthy.
Under Gov. Ralph Northam’s Phase Two plan, Virginia will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing, working at home, and requiring individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 50 people. All businesses are required to maintain physical distancing guidelines and to frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces.
FluCares goal is to support the state guidelines and keep people and employees healthy by providing masks.
To date, cases have been increasing in northern Virginia and the Richmond area and surrounding counties with Fluvanna remaining stable with 94 cases, 23 hospitalizations, and six deaths as of June 6, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Overall, in Virginia there have been over 47,000 cases and over 1,400 deaths. Fluvanna may have dodged a more lethal bullet because of the conscientious efforts of its residents practicing social distancing, staying at home, and using masks.
“Masks are being given to people who are immunocompromised or with face health challenges, churches whose members may be at greater risk, essential employees, customers and staff of local businesses, and families receiving assistance from the Fluvanna County schools’ food distribution,” said Harris.
She was concerned with the health data regarding the impact of COVID-19 on African American and Latino communities. “They are impacted disproportionately by this disease but COVID-19 has the potential to make anyone sick, regardless of race, ethnicity, or age.” For this reason, her goal is to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy.
Harris started FLUCares as a Facebook group in March when the pandemic hit to connect neighbors to resources.
“In the FLUCares group, people have posted with questions of where to turn for specific services as COVID-19 became a reality. We also share information about health resources, how to file for unemployment, info on testing sites, mental health resources, and school information, among many others,” she said. “We point them to existing resources when available in the same way other mutual aid groups work; members of the Facebook group respond with ways they can help in some instances. Some have offered to make a pick-up or deliver groceries when needed. We also added a website as a sort of one-stop place to find info on existing resources.”
Harris has used social media for a good cause and the Facebook group has become a vehicle for sharing of information. Their posts include health resources, how to file for unemployment, information on testing sites, mental health, and school information.
“The mask project evolved from these efforts. Seeing the need for masks, at first for essential employees and those most vulnerable, a partnership of sorts was formed between people making masks with people looking for ways to help neighbors and serve the community.”
Harris says these efforts have evolved as the needs have grown. Groups making masks sent messages asking how they could help us get masks to community members. Shirley Stewart and the Lake Monticello Piecemakers have made and donated over 1,000 masks. A group from Fork Union Baptist Church has dedicated time and effort to make and donate masks to community members. Thomas Jefferson Health District donated masks and the Fluvanna Sunday School Union donated money to support this effort as well as local civic organizations, individuals, and families.
As the mask making become a larger effort, Millie Fife and Gillian Ruffa, joined forces with Harris to help broaden the reach in the community. They have been organizing these efforts, reaching out to community groups, ordering and taking requests for masks, raising funds, and creating distribution systems to get masks to members of the community.
“Each of us has been involved with various other community efforts but saw this as a way we could help our neighbors in a very specific and important way in the midst of this pandemic,” said Harris. “In addition, civic groups and community organizations learned of our efforts and reached out to offer donations to help us place bulk orders for masks to be able to get even more masks to our neighbors.”
She adds that Jefferson Good Neighbor Pharmacy serves as a distribution spot for individuals who request masks online or by email. These prevention and health promotion efforts include sharing information cards with CDC and public health guidelines.
“Jefferson Pharmacy has been so supportive of our efforts, serving as a drop-off and pick-up spot for masks, and they have helped us get the word out to customers about how to get a mask from us when needed. As the first business to require customers to wear masks, EW Thomas has been an organization we worked to support by getting masks to them.”
Washington has also been instrumental in helping FluCares deliver masks to community members who may not have internet or be connected with their Facebook group.
“Ryant Washington has spent a great deal of time at county locations handing out masks and health information. Our efforts involve sharing printed information on the importance of social distancing and hand washing as well as how to wear and wash masks.”
“Fluvanna neighbors are stepping up in a big way to show support and prove that we are definitely better off together.” To date, 2,600 masks have been given to members of the community. Harris is humble in her admiration and recognition of the dedication of these selfless, caring volunteers and those who have donated funds. “As we have connected with others in the community, formed partnerships, and are becoming aware of other needs and issues, we are looking for other ways we can serve and build the community. “
If you need a mask, or if you would like to contribute to these efforts, email: email@example.com.