Postgraduates provide handmade hand sanitizer, masks to local unhoused

Photo of masks
Christopher Gee/Courtesy
With the biggest surge in COVID-19 cases in coming months, grassroots organization Common Humanity Collective aims to make 10,000 masks to accommodate potential demand.

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Common Humanity Collective, a grassroots mutual aid organization that produces and distributes personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as handmade hand sanitizer and face masks, is prepared for a surge of COVID-19 cases in coming months.

Common Humanity Collective was founded by campus alumna Yvonne Hao and campus graduate student Abrar Abidi in March when they worked together in the Tjian and Darazacq group on campus. Hao and Abidi started making hand sanitizer from chemical reagents as a way for the lab to stay safe as it continued to operate during shelter-in-place orders, according to Hao.

Chris Gee, a postdoctoral researcher at the Joint Bioenergy Institute in Emeryville, helped found the mask-making division of Common Humanity Collective. When Gee started making masks, he said he was doing it on his own until he heard about the collective in April. He “joined forces” with the organization shortly thereafter.

“Our mission has always been to provide PPE for as many people as we can, especially for those who do not have the resources to get access to them,” Gee said.

Hao said as soon as she and Abidi had made their first batch of hand sanitizer, they reached out to Abidi’s contacts in the Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA, so they could start distributing it. Through the DSA, Common Humanity Collective was then able to set up a distribution network.

Gee said all the capital for Common Humanity Collective is fundraised through grassroots means. He added that recipients are not charged for the PPE.

“Basic sanitation is a human right,” Hao said. “We wanted to make sure that we were distributing it to anyone who asked for it or those who especially needed it like homeless people, incarcerated people, people living in group homes or firefighters.”

Gee said the biggest surge in COVID-19 cases will be in the next couple of months, so much Common Humanity Collective aims to make 10,000 masks to accommodate potential demand. Currently, the organization has enough materials to make 12,000 masks.

Abidi said the collective quality controls its hand sanitizer and uses a formula approved by the World Health Organization. He added that while the Common Humanity Collective used to make sanitizing wipes, it decided to focus more on making masks instead because most COVID-19 cases are spread through close contact with infected people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Abidi added that a lab in North Carolina analyzed the masks and found up to 88% filtration, a “vast improvement” from what most people wear for masks.

“This is about as far from capitalism as you can get,” Abidi said. “When you detest the idea of anyone profiting off of a natural disaster, you can get a lot more supplies to a lot more people.”

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Common Humanity Collective was an anarchocommunist organization. In fact, it is not.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Chris Gee is a postdoctoral student at the Joint Bioengineering Institute in Emeryville. In fact, he is a postdoctoral researcher at the Joint Bioenergy Institute in Emeryville.