After we finished our #DOGOOD campaigns to help frontline workers, we sent 30,000 PPE masks to Native Americans, Prisoners, Homeless, Disabled, Nursing Homes Across U.S.—and our customers were an integral part of these efforts.
In April, when New York was suffering the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world, DGY Founder and CEO Nicole and the DGY team were powerfully moved by a story New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo shared during one of his widely-viewed daily briefings. He told the story of a Kansas farmer who mailed a single mask to his office. We are a global company, but we are headquartered in upstate New York. The story of this farmer, from Troy, KS resonated with us (we are just miles away from Troy, NY).
"A small act of kindness can ripple and grow," said Nicole. "This is really a story of how a heartfelt gift of a single mask became a gift of 30,000 masks for people in need across the United States."
The retired farmer had five N95 masks left over from his working days. He needed four masks to protect his family. But he mailed the one mask he could spare to the governor of New York—the only New Yorker he could think of to send it to—and asked that he pass along the mask to a nurse or doctor.
"How beautiful is that? How selfless is that?" Cuomo asked at the briefing, in a clip that later went viral online. The farmer's gesture encapsulated "that generosity of spirit that makes America so beautiful," the governor said.
[Photo above: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo holds single N95 mask donated by retired Kansas farmer, April 24, 2020 press briefing (ny.gov).]
HELP NEW YORK FIRST, THEN LET'S RUSH TO HELP SECOND & THIRD
From Importing Yarn to Importing Masks, DGY Leverages Overseas Business Contacts
Nicole and DGY wanted to feed that spirit of generosity, which is in keeping with our business philosophy.
Darn Good Yarn is an online purveyor of unique yarn, craft supplies and fashion goods that are made of ethically-sourced recycled materials. The business supports more than 600 global artisans who produce several lines that are unique to the company and also help to create fair trade, and sustainable economic conditions which would otherwise be unavailable in those specific markets.
"At Darn Good Yarn, doing good is our job," said Nicole. "Our focus has been on supporting sustainable and fair jobs around the globe through ethical sourcing. But when the COVID-19 pandemic began, we asked ourselves what else we can do, to do good?"
She realized that her company’s business connections—gained through years of sourcing unique items from around world—could be used to help solve the mask shortage at home.
As the coronavirus first started ravaging New York, healthcare providers and even governments struggled to find surgical and medical grade N95 masks available for purchase.
The shortage was so dire, Gov. Cuomo made a general appeal for medical supplies in another of his early briefings: "Let's help each other. New York, because New York is first," Cuomo said on March 24. “And then after New York, and after the curve breaks in New York, let's all rush to whoever's second. And then let's all rush to whoever's third. And let's learn from each other and help each other."
Nicole and DGY took that message to heart. They secured a shipment of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from overseas with a plan to donate masks to under-served communities in their home state first, to slow the spread, and then send masks across the country when necessary.
Here's how Darn Good Yarn achieved that mission, and how it all came full circle back to that Kansas farmer.
FOR NEW YORK NURSING HOMES
By July, New York had "bent the curve" and was entering the later phases of re-opening. But the most vulnerable populations were still at risk and there were reports of some nursing homes across the state running dangerously low on mask supplies.
With the help of LeadingAge New York, an association for continuing care providers, Darn Good Yarn identified four nursing homes in different regions of the state, to donate much needed surgical and medical grade N95 masks. In total, DGY shipped 10,000 surgical masks and 725 medical grade N95 masks to nursing homes in Watertown, New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley.
FOR CENTERS FOR DISABILITY
Next, Darn Good Yarn made arrangements to donate 2,000 medical grade N95 masks to centers for disability services in Albany, N.Y.
"These masks arrived at a critical time when we needed them most," said Anne Schneider Costigan, spokesperson for Center for Disability Services. "We cannot begin to express our gratitude to everyone at Darn Good Yarn for assisting us with the health and safety of the people we support and our staff."
[Photo: Davina with Volunteer Coordinator Abigail Worme. St. Margarets Center. (Courtesy of Center for Disability Services).]
FOR HOMELESS VETERANS
A U.S. Air Force veteran, Nicole made sure to donate masks to Veterans Housing and Services of Albany Housing Coalition Inc., also in Albany, N.Y.
SUPPORTING TRIBAL COMMUNITIES
America's first people are often the last to receive help, which is why Darn Good Yarn sent 3,000 surgical masks and 300 N95 masks to the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board, an Oklahoma-based nonprofit dedicated to serving tribal nations of the Southern Plains region by improving health outcomes through partnerships, advocacy, education, and training.
"We are beyond excited to share these masks with the Tribal Nations we serve across Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and as you probably know, they could not have been more timely," wrote Tracy Prather Director OK Area Tribal Epidemiology Center, Southern Plains Tribal Health Board in a message to Darn Good Yarn this July. "Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas are all facing tremendous surge right now and your kindness will go a long way to help fill great need."
COVID-19 PROTECTION FOR PEOPLE CURRENTLY & FORMERLY INCARCERATED
Many people who are currently and formerly incarcerated are in need of PPE. There are news reports from prisons with dangerously low numbers of masks for inmates and guards. In some prisons, incarcerated people are sewing masks for other institutions but don't have their own masks and must instead use less-effective handkerchiefs.
"Incarcerated people are particularly vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus because social distancing is nearly impossible inside," Nicole said. "A prison sentence should not include COVID-19."
Dream Corps #cut50 program is a bipartisan effort to cut crime and incarceration across all 50 states. The program brings together leaders impacted by the criminal justice system with unlikely allies spanning the political divide to push for criminal justice solutions.
Currently, #cut50 is working to get much needed PPE supplies to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. Darn Good Yarn donated 3,000 surgical masks and 125 medical grade N95 masks to the cause. Those masks are currently being distributed in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"As our justice-involved population is grappling with the uncertainty surrounding COVID–19 we're proud to provide support and uplift vulnerable communities with mask donations to protect themselves from the deadly virus. The threat of coronavirus is impacting currently and formerly incarcerated individuals at a dangerous level," said Michael Mendoza, #cut50 National Director. "Thanks to the generosity of Darn Good Yarn, we've supplied masks to at-risk clients of the San Francisco Adult Probation Department. These masks will assist in providing added safety to those on supervised release."
PAYING IT BACK, PAYING IT FORWARD
From Troy, New York to Troy, Kansas With Care
[Caption: Contents of #DoGood care package from Darn Good Yarn to Troy, Kan. Mayor, including letters from company founder and Mayor of Troy, N.Y. With gifts from the Enjoy Troy Co. of Troy, N.Y. and boxes of disposable masks to distribute to those in need (Courtesy Darn Good Yarn). ]
In total, Darn Good Yarn donated nearly 25,000 surgical masks and more than 4,000 medical N95 masks through its #DoGood campaign.
Each donation of masks included a letter from Nicole that told the story of the kind farmer from Kansas who sent a single mask to New York and how that one mask then became 30,000 masks.
In August, after all the masks had been shipped and received, Darn Good Yarn mailed one care package to the retired farmer, Dennis Ruhnke of Troy, Kan. and one care package to Troy Kan. Mayor Sarah Boeh-Cerra.
The packages included a letter from Nicole and a letter from Mayor Patrick Madden of Troy, N.Y.*, a small city located near Darn Good Yarn headquarters as well as Albany, N.Y. where Gov. Cuomo lives. Each package contained a baseball hat, stickers and photo postcards from Troy, N.Y.
The package to Troy Kan. Mayor Boeh-Cerra included a few boxes of surgical and N95 masks. In her letter to the mayor, Nicole asked that those masks be passed along to healthcare professionals and those they help in Troy, Kan.
"Receiving that package was just amazing, incredible," said Sarah Boeh-Cerra, mayor of Troy, Kan. "We all need to help each other to get through this together."
Nicole's letter also mentioned that The Southern Plains Tribal Health Board vowed to distribute some of the masks they received from Darn Good Yarn to tribal communities in Doniphan County, Kan., where Troy is the county seat. The organization said they would share the story of Mr. Rhunke's mask.
"Darn Good Yarn is sharing stories and photographs about our #DoGood mask donation effort, not as a way to pat ourselves on the back, but to inspire you with the good work our partners in this project are doing," said Nicole. "Because we know how stories of kindness grow."
*In his letters, Troy Mayor Patrick Madden notes that his daughter works for Governor Cuomo is Albany, in the office that received Ruhnke's mask.
Check out other stories about this #DOGOOD effort: