Thanks to a local collaboration, more than 360,000 protective face masks will be provided to essential workers in healthcare and human services in the Pittsburgh region to help them during the COVID-19 crisis.

It’s all thanks to a group that consists of the Allegheny Conference, Pittsburgh-based medical relief agency Global Links, manufacturer American Textile Company, the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, and a host of local foundations and corporate donors.

“A few weeks ago, we were a manufacturer of bedding products for hotels, hospitals, major retailers around the country,” says Lance Ruttenberg, CEO of American Textile Co., headquartered in Duquesne. “And here we are six weeks later, making masks, hundreds of thousands per week.”

They’re making reusable cloth face masks. While they don’t offer the same protection as the standard N95 mask, they will allow the limited supply of medical-grade respirators to go where they are needed most.

A planeload of masks from their El Salvador factory just landed last night. Their factory in Duquesne, and other factories around the country, are also churning out masks.

Photo courtesy of American Textile Company.

Green Tree-based Global Links is making sure that the first masks are going to nonprofits who deal with the most vulnerable populations.

“Global Links has worked for over 30 years to equip and protect healthcare workers around the world,” says Executive Director Angela Garcia. “Our goal is to provide these masks to every social worker, hospice worker, home care worker in Allegheny and surrounding counties, and we need to do this now and into the near future, so we can keep the spread of the virus minimal, and protect all those who are caring for our most vulnerable neighbors.”

They will first be made available to all the free clinics, senior care facilities, shelters for victims of domestic violence, and homeless shelters in the Pittsburgh region.

The masks can be used by themselves, or in conjunction with the N95 mask, which are hard to come by.

“For healthcare workers that do have an N95 mask, they can put this over the N95 mask since those are so limited,” says Garcia. “And that extends the life of the N95 mask.”

“We’re trying to give them multiples,” she explains. “So they have at least two, so they can have one in the laundry and wear one during the work day.”

Nursing homes are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, so they will be a priority for the masks.

“Any staff working in a senior care and nursing home type of setting,” says Garcia. “That could be the food preparation staff, that could be the cleaning team, administration, all of the staff of the senior care facilities are receiving these.”

The Allegheny Conference helped organize the effort, which has a lot of moving parts.

We serve as the custodian for the project, so we’ve facilitated and lent our expertise on the finance side of things, says Janel Skelley, CFO of the Allegheny Conference. “We are so thrilled to see this project come to life.”

$750,000 has been contributed to the project to date from local foundations and corporations. There will likely be more made after this 360,000 are distributed.

“We’re going to produce as many as needed,” says Ruttenberg.

Contributors to the project include AHRCO, American Textile Company, BNY Mellon, Dollar Bank, Federated Investors Foundation, Inc., Gateway Financial, Giant Eagle, Inc., Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Jewish Healthcare Foundation, Koppers, PITT OHIO, Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, PNC Foundation, PPG and the PPG Foundation, Richard King Mellon Foundation, Robroy Industries, Dick and Ginny Simmons, The Heinz Endowments, and Wadhwani Impact Trust.

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.