The Baltimore City NAACP plans to hand out thousands of free face masks this fall, as part of its efforts to help vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting this weekend, with a stop at Patterson Park on Sunday afternoon, NAACP leaders plan to distribute reusable cloth masks and KN95 masks. On Saturday, too, they’ll hand out masks during a get-out-the-vote caravan, starting in the Pimlico area and ending at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore.
The NAACP is aiming to distribute masks at city polling places, as part of its efforts to encourage Baltimoreans to vote in November’s presidential election.
“Vote like your life depends on it, but also wear your mask like your life depends on it,” said Rev. Kobi Little, president of Baltimore’s NAACP branch, during a news conference in Baltimore on Thursday.
The group also hopes to procure more decorative reusable cloth masks manufactured by Black-owned small businesses in the city, leaders said.
“We’ll be able to have a little swag with the cloth masks that we provide for people who find the white masks to be a little drab,” Little said.
The reusable masks were provided by Johns Hopkins Hospital, Little said, and the disposable KN95 masks were provided by advertising company Flywheel Digital.
State Del. Darryl Barnes, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, said the branch’s effort “should be replicated from every NAACP across the state.”
“The African American community, their [coronavirus] numbers are staggering. Too many people are dying," Barnes said at Thursday’s news conference. “So we must do all that we can. We must spread the word on how serious this is."
The masks are the latest part of the NAACP’s ongoing efforts to bring information and aid to minority communities, which have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
State data shows that in Maryland, Black individuals make up 40.8% of coronavirus deaths, but 31.1% of the state population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanic individuals make up 11.5% of the state’s coronavirus deaths, but 10.6% of the state population. One of the hardest hit ZIP codes in the state — 21224 — includes Baltimore City’s Highlandtown neighborhood, home to a large Hispanic immigrant population.
Back in April, the city’s NAACP branch rented a large flatbed truck — equipped with a sound system and signs bearing COVID-19 safety tips — in hopes of informing vulnerable communities about the risks of the virus. The group has updated the text on the truck as part of this new initiative.
Ashiah Parker, executive director of the No Boundaries Coalition — one of the NAACP’s partners for the mask distribution campaign — said it’s crucial that community groups reach those who don’t get their information through the internet and television.
“The communities that we serve often are overlooked. They don’t have access to the internet. They may not even look at the news," Parker said. "So it’s up to community partners, my organization, other organizations to make sure that we continually give information and education about how serious this pandemic is.”