UC Berkeley alumni create organization to distributes face masks for homeless individuals

Photo of colorful cloth masks
Quinn Dombrowski/Creative Commons
Masks2All, an organization started by UC Berkeley alumni Ruth Chen and Neeknaz Abari, provides reusable face masks for unhoused individuals in the Bay Area. (Photo by Quinn Dombrowski under CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Without a home to quarantine in or a sink to wash their hands, many of the thousands of unhoused people living in the Bay Area lack protection against the coronavirus pandemic — an issue that Masks2All aims to help address.

Masks2All is an organization that provides reusable face masks for unhoused individuals in the Bay Area. UC Berkeley alumni Ruth Chen and Neeknaz Abari began developing the idea for Masks2All in April, with the team quickly expanding to include campus alumni Yoko Imajo, Juliana Zhao and Vicky Jin, as well as Mo Siddiqui, a medical student at Rush University.

According to its website, the organization has distributed 10,138 masks as of press time.

“After March, once the dust settled and we all went home, obviously a lot of us missed Berkeley and that kind of environment and wanted to help in some way, even though we were remote,” Jin said. 

When Alameda County issued a public health order in April requiring residents to wear face masks in public, Jin said the group wanted to help prevent homeless people from being fined because of a lack of access to masks.

The team began collecting donations through a GoFundMe page in May and partnered with Los Angeles-based clothing brand For Days, who agreed to produce orders at cost value, Jin said.

The group is now sourcing mask donations from multiple vendors, as well as from UC Berkeley alumni who are donating masks they made themselves, Jin added.

The team said it wanted to provide reusable face masks in order to make its product as sustainable, comfortable and impactful as possible.

The group also created a list of public hand-washing stations in Berkeley and Oakland. This information, alongside a list of general COVID-19 safety tips, is included in each Masks2All package.

“Unhoused people might not be able to get disposable masks every single day, so having two masks and a baggie with a list of public sanitation washing stations was the best solution,” Imajo said.

The team has partnered with more than 20 community organizations serving homeless people in the Bay Area, delivering the masks directly to people in street encampments or shelters, Imajo added.

Masks2All accepts donations on its website through its fiscal sponsor, the Berkeley Student Food Collective, and has raised more than $13,500 from individual and corporate sponsors, according to Chen.

The team’s next milestone is to provide masks to all unhoused individuals living in San Francisco, a goal it is hoping to reach by November, Chen said in an email.

Contact Ruby Sutton at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rubysutton_.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Masks2All is fiscally sponsored by the Berkeley Student Cooperative. In fact, its fiscal sponsor is the Berkeley Student Food Collective.

A previous version of this article’s headline incorrectly stated that Masks2All produces face masks. In fact, it distributes face masks.