With support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE), two local nonprofits recently began distributing face masks to people in need.

Cloth face coverings may help prevent coronavirus (COVID-19) from spreading, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC recommends people wear face masks in public when social distancing is difficult to maintain.

BCBSNE’s donations are helping Metro Omaha Medical Society (MOMS) and Heartland United Way give masks to people who are unable to make or buy their own, along with instructions for safe wash and wear.

MOMS, serving Greater Omaha

MOMS is harnessing the needles of hundreds of local sewers to stitch 45,000 cloth masks.

Using a system set up by Nebraska Masks for Medicine, a local mask-sewing effort, the nonprofit has nearly reached its mask-making goal, said Carol Wang, MOMS executive director. Distribution has begun using Omaha Public Schools’ meal pick-up sites.

“We send over the masks to the sites, and as families come to pick up their meals, the volunteers ask them if they want masks, and if so, they ask how many for adults and how many for kids,” Wang said. “The masks go in their meal kits alongside an information sheet.”

The multi-lingual information sheets illustrate how to properly clean and wear the masks. Wang said recipients are thankful for the face coverings and instructions.

“Everyone has been so grateful,” she said. “In fact, one of the children who received a mask came back and gave one of our volunteers an origami figure they made to thank them. We have been thrilled that hopefully they will use them. That’s the most important thing. We want them to have them, and we want them to use them.”

MOMS anticipates handing out all masks by Aug. 1. The nonprofit has approximately 150 sewing kits left. Volunteers interested in making the final masks can pick up a kit at either Celtic Quilter at 10930 Q St. or from the front porch of a home at 13018 Charles St.

To learn more about BCBSNE’s donation to MOMS, read Wanted: Sewers for Metro Omaha Medical Society’s massive mask-making effort.

Heartland United Way, serving Greater Grand Island

Heartland United Way, a local community impact and fundraising organization serving Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick Counties, also received financial support from BCBSNE to distribute masks to families in need.

The nonprofit purchased 9,000 masks and is handing them out to those in need as part of its #DoYourPart campaign. Elizabeth Troyer-Miller, heartland disaster outreach coordinator, said the campaign was born from a need to share public health-related news as the area experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases in April.

The campaign uses billboards, social media and posters to highlight the importance of mask wearing.

“We can all do something, and that something is wearing a mask,” Troyer-Miller said. “This is one simple thing we can do in our communities to keep making a difference.”

Heartland United Way recently began distributing masks and has partnered with local food pantries and Grand Island Public Schools to get the job done.

Troyer-Miller said people have been grateful to receive the masks, along with instructions for proper wear and care that BCBSNE helped produce in English, Spanish, Arabic and Somali.

“We know there are people out there who need masks and desire to have them,” she said. “If there’s a price tag associated with it, that’s a barrier. To be able to provide a reusable, comfortable mask eliminates that barrier that someone may have.”

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