A local non-profit is doing its best to make sure no one goes without a face mask during the COVID pandemic.
Wellspring Interfaith Social Services, located in Fort Wayne at 1316 Broadway St., is tasking some of its staff to hand-sew face masks to distribute for free to whomever is in need of a mask, or to those who may not be able to afford to buy their own.
The agency uses a team of 10 staff members to create the masks, said Executive Director, Melissa Rinehart. Since the program began on August 4, her team has created roughly 6,000 masks for donation, she added.
So far, she said, her team of has created free masks for distribution in a number of spots around town, including at the agency’s food bank, at its mobile food pantry, and from its headquarters on Broadway. She said Wellspring also has donated masks to the Fort Wayne Police Department for officers to wear while on duty.
Wellspring’s mobile pantry offers food for the needy at several spots around town on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The mask program is funded by three different foundations in town, Rinehart said. Pitching in to help are the Community Foundation of Fort Wayne, the Anthony Wayne Services Foundation, and the United Way of Allen County.
Rinehart didn’t have exact figures for what they’ve donated so far, but estimated their contributions to be “several thousand dollars.”
Because the masks created have been so varied in their designs and colors, watching each shipment come in has become a highlight for Wellspring workers, Rinehart said.
“They make all kinds of logos, colors and patterns,” she noted. “It’s kind of fun when the delivery comes in, because, it’s like, let’s see what they made for us this week.”
She said the free masks run the gamut of colors, patterns and designs – everything from funky patterns and colors to Big Ten conference team logos.
Wellspring officials noted that they only hope that the masks get to those who need them most, no matter their color or pattern.
“Unfortunately,” Wellspring officials noted, “it has come to our attention that many of our neighbors are having trouble obtaining and paying for face masks. One mask can cost anywhere from $5 to $20, and it is recommended that each person own more than one mask so that they can be washed frequently.
“Although $5 to $20 may not sound like a lot,” they continued, “for a family already facing serious financial hardships, this is a prohibitive price tag. This is why Wellspring is stepping up as a distributor of home-sewn masks.”
Wellspring got its start in 1968 when five downtown churches (Emmanuel Lutheran, First Presbyterian, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Trinity English Lutheran, and Wayne Street United Methodist) and the local Y.M.C.A. joined together to create the agency. At first, its main purpose was to provide summer programs for the youth in Fort Wayne’s West Central neighborhood.
The organization quickly expanded to offer a variety of programs to boost the educational, social, physical, and recreational needs of local youth and adults. Last year, the agency notes, it directly impacted the lives of more than 7,800 youth, family and seniors through its direct service programs.
Nowadays, the group offers a variety of services, from food banks and a mobile food pantry, to programs for youth and older adults, and even a used clothing shop for the needy.
Unfortunately, Wellspring plans to wind down its free mask distribution in the next couple of months, Rinehart said, due to its funding coming to an end. She said there are currently no plans to search for other funding sources to keep the program afloat.
However, Rinehart said even just starting a program such as this was important because so many folks in the community needed it.
“An organization like ours has helped the underserved for years,” she said. “And a lot of people are struggling right now. We just thought this was something else we could offer our clients that no one else is doing.”
For more information on the current mask program, log on to Wellspring’s website, at www.wellspringinterfaith.org, or call them at (260) 422-6618.