Jonathan Allen and Mark Christman

Jonathan Allen and Mark Christman have a story that is all too typical these days: When the pandemic hit, they found themselves out of work. They work in hospitality and manage an Airbnb—and to complicate matters, they are caring for Mark’s 85 year-old, disabled mother, who lives with them.

When Riverside County suggested residents begin wearing masks outside of the house, they decided that making them would be a way for them to help support themselves—and give back to the community as well.

They purchased the very last sewing machine on the shelf at Walmart, and Jonathan went to work practicing patterns. They first made masks for themselves, and then began donating them, starting with a few (former) co-workers. It wasn’t until they visited their local Albertsons grocery store that they realized that many of the employees there, who had become friends in the five years they have lived in Palm Springs, were worried—at that time, they didn’t have masks and weren’t sure how to get them. The next phase of production was making 15 masks to donate to them.

At that point, they finally felt comfortable posting the masks for sale on Facebook in hopes of making some money for themselves.

“The reaction to our campaign has been amazing,” says Mark, “and it goes a long way to restore our faith in humanity to see so many people who understand the importance of supporting local producers in this time of crisis. People seem to understand that their neighbors, even if they are relative strangers, have been affected in a profound way by the coronavirus and need support. We are greatly moved by the response, and hope to continue to provide resources to those most in need.”

They are selling masks for $12 and will do custom orders. They are also donating one mask for every order of four or more to local grocery-store and food-service employees, and will send purchasers a picture of the mask being donated. That donation aspect came about when the marketing person from Renova Energy saw their post and said she wanted a couple of masks not for herself, but for them to donate to people who needed them and couldn’t afford them.

Jonathan and Mark eventually got a custom email address so people could send in requests. When their inexpensive sewing machine broke, a friend helped them find a machine to borrow so they could continue to make masks while they waited for their replacement machine to arrive.

“Someone who is a total stranger to us, with a giving heart and no shortage of compassion, solved our problem from a thousand miles away (sheltering with family in Texas), because she believed in what we are doing,” Mark says. “It shouldn’t be surprising, given the inherent moral fabric that this community was built on, that someone would be willing to help. I guess life will continue to surprise all of us now when it means the most if we work together to solve even the most basic problems, like making sure that everybody has the necessary personal protection equipment to stay safe during this pandemic.

“The original idea of making face masks for those willing to donate to our cause, the help-us-pay-rent association of the recently unemployed, has blossomed into something different and far more extensional than we ever anticipated. We never knew that something that once recently seemed so trivial could change a worldview, but as willing participants in this game of life, we are pleasantly surprised to see the results trickle in, lending support to the idea that, one way or another, we will all get through this together.”

If you’re interested in purchasing a mask for yourself or others, email Lea Goodsell is the vice president of business development and branding for Renova Energy.