Help in race to recoup medical supplies coming from unlikely places

The race to resupply Personal Protective Equipment for those on the medical front lines is getting a boost from unlikely sources.

Halfway around the world, the rumble of sewing machines in Nepal signals a new wave of help is being prepared for the United States.

“It’s kind of ironic that a developing world country is offering to help the United States with its Personal Protective Equipment, which is really at the heart of containing the virus,” said Robert Freeman, a Peninsula teacher turned philanthropist, who founded the non-profit One Dollar for Life in 2008.

Initially, ODFL’s mission was building classrooms and medical clinics in impoverished communities in 16 developing countries. But the advent of the COVID-19 Coronavirus has given the world a new mission – contain the spread, through social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks. Supplies of the latter are running low, so Freeman is using ODFL sewing plants in Nepal and Kenya to make more masks for every country.

“This is all it is – a piece of cotton with some earpieces. Inside is a hypoallergenic layer to keep a moisture barrier out,” said Freeman, as he held one of the masks for demonstration purposes.

These masks are 8”x14”, and cost $.030 to make, compared to about $7 for the popular N-95 mask. Also, these are washable and reusable, lasting about three years.

Technical Director Brenda Birrell came up with the design, and has made slight modifications over the past few days.

“I did consult with the nurses and doctors to ask what they would recommend using for that (middle) layer, so the virus will not – if somebody sneezes on them, you don’t want the virus going through.  And so what they said was the hypoallergenic fabric,” she said.

Approximately 3,000 of the OFLD masks have been distributed in Nepal and Kenya. And the Palo Alto Kiwanis Club is paying to have 1,000 masks shipped to the Bay Area. But there’s a snag. Over the past 24 hours, the government of Nepal has instituted a travel ban – no flights in our out. So the masks sit at an airport.

“As soon as that ban is lifted, we will have a thousand of them shipped here,” said Freeman.

Until then, ODFL officials are putting the designs for their mask online so that anyone, anywhere can use needle and thread to help fight a global pandemic.

For more information on this project: