Swag.com is proud to help innovative organizations around the world accomplish their goals. We work with businesses and nonprofits alike to create meaningful brand touch points that make an impact. Now and then we like to share stories of how some of our customers are doing just that!
Today we are profiling Project N95, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE) available to vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in communities across the globe, most people had no idea what the term PPE meant. Outside of the healthcare space, personal protective equipment was typically not a part of daily life.
But as COVID spread, people around the world quickly realized they would need reliable N95s, surgical masks, gloves COVID-19 tests, and more to remain safe. Huge spikes in demand left health providers and individuals alike struggling to secure the materials they needed. In some cases, lack of education and shady entrepreneurs also led to a proliferation of sub-par products flooding the PPE & testing market.
All of this led to a PPE crisis where millions were left without access to the life-saving tools they needed to protect themselves against the pandemic.
A National Clearinghouse for PPE
Enter Project N95, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that was founded in early 2020 to help struggling frontline health providers secure quality PPE. Created by a team of experts in the healthcare, logistics and technology sectors, Project N95 sources, vets and distributes PPE to vulnerable communities across the US who otherwise would have a difficult time securing the quality materials they need.
In a nutshell, Project N95 sources PPE from distributors, makes sure that those items are safe and of high-quality, and then makes these materials available at a price that is more affordable than the typical market rate. Moreover, the organization is able to get more PPE into more people’s hands by offering smaller order minimums than what large distributors give their customers.
Since its inception, Project N95 has distributed over 8.4 million units of PPE that have protected more than 300,000 people. To do so has required their mostly volunteer team to adapt quickly to new challenges and needs that have sprung up.
“We’re in the constant mode of asking, ‘how can we help?’” said Kimberly Paulk, Project N95’s Director of Communications and Development. “Every day at Project N95 we’re doing things that we’ve never done before, because none of this has ever happened before.”
That question has led Project N95 to develop an open marketplace that now provides any person or organization access to vetted and affordable PPE, including respirators, isolation gowns, test kits, face shields, masks, gloves, thermometers and more.
Read more: Swag Ideas for Nonprofit Organizations
A PPE crisis for the most vulnerable
At first, it seemed as though almost every frontline organization was having trouble getting the PPE they needed. Shortage was rampant: one estimate said that the US stockpile of facemasks covered just 1% of the amount needed to face the pandemic.
Growing demand for products also flooded the market with a huge amount of sub-par products at a time when information about what to look for in quality PPE was scarce. This was a huge problem for regular people trying to stay safe, as well as for smaller health providers who lacked the funding and scale to afford teams dedicated to proper PPE procurement.
Eventually, larger health providers like hospitals began to work out distribution plans with manufacturers who were ramping up their production. But for smaller and more vulnerable clinics, there were still major barriers to access.
“The large hospitals figured out the supply chain, and they have the budget to make it happen,” Kimberly said. “But we found a lot of the smaller healthcare providers and workers were getting left out still. Even as the pandemic has evolved, shelters, community clinics, and rural clinics can still struggle to find vetted PPE.”
Minimum order quantities, a lack of dedicated procurement staff and even complex logistics issues continue to ensure that these smaller health providers still encounter serious barriers to access when it comes to PPE. As Project N95’s Director of Partnership Initiatives Christine Priori told Swag.com, these gaps in access to PPE mirror larger structural issues in the healthcare system:
“While the pandemic has affected everyone, there are clear disparities in vulnerability to COVID-19 that are not coincidental,” she said. “They are the result of centuries of policy decisions that affect how people live and their ability to access healthcare.”
To address these needs, Project N95 has focused on developing a supply chain that allows them to break up bigger orders of vetted PPE into smaller minimum orders that they can then distribute directly to these smaller groups. By reducing minimum order quantities, and ensuring that PPE has been thoroughly vetted, Project N95 is trying to dissolve some of the major barriers of access in these vulnerable communities.
An organization powered by dedicated volunteers
In order to do the hard work of sourcing, vetting and distributing PPE, Project N95 relies on a fully-distributed team of volunteers throughout the country.
“It’s been an organization that’s come together in a crisis, and done amazing things with an almost entirely volunteer-driven team,” Kimberly said. “We’ve had over 400 volunteers since inception who have come in and out of the organization as their life has permitted, simply to support this cause of trying to keep each other and our communities as safe as possible through this pandemic.”
These volunteers help with everything from physically vetting the PPE, to operating the digital marketplace where individuals and organizations can order the supplies they need. They are at the heart of Project N95, and without them, none of the work they do would be possible. Though there are a handful of digital communities where volunteers get recruited to the cause, most of them arrive at Project N95 through word of mouth referrals from other people who have worked to further the organization’s mission.
For Christine, the massive interest in volunteering comes from a sense of wanting to do something to help in the face of what has often felt like an overwhelming crisis:
“I’m not a first responder— I can’t be out on the front lines,” she said. “But this organization provided a way to make a meaningful difference. It feels good to be a part of this team, this wonderful group of humans.”
Building pride with swag
To help develop this sense of pride and community among its team, Project N95 worked with Swag.com to create custom t-shirts that get distributed to all remote volunteers when they sign on to work with the organization. Though it is a small gesture, even something as simple as a t-shirt takes on incredible meaning when it represents something bigger.
As Christine noted, t-shirts are the perfect way to remind volunteers that they are part of something larger than themselves, working to change the world for the better.
“A lot of our volunteers feel a tremendous sense of pride— I know I did to be part of an organization that was working so hard and so effectively to deliver PPE. That sense of pride really translates, and It feels good to see that printed on a shirt. It’s a way to affiliate with a group of people that I am incredibly proud to be associated with, and a cause that is really meaningful.”
Using the Swag.com inventory and giveaway features, Project N95 is easily able to hold a ton of customized shirts in our warehouse, and send one at a time to new volunteers. All they have to do is pick their size, upload their address, and we handle the rest.
“The gift of their time is something that we really can’t repay,” Kimberly said. “A great t-shirt is where we start.”
Committed to addressing whatever comes next
As vaccination rates go up and cases go down, the reopening of businesses and the economy at large will bring with it a new set of challenges. But Project N95 is ready to help in any way they can.
One way they have already pivoted towards the new phase of pandemic management is with an increased focus on how to offer the PPE and testing kits that will help employees feel safe returning to the workplace. The same goes for schools, where children and teachers alike will need PPE to conduct in-person learning.
With these programs and whatever else is to come, Christine says that Project N95 will continue to iterate towards the goal of breaking down barriers of access to those who need it the most:
“Just as we weren’t feeling limited to remain in the PPE space and we grew into the testing space, there are other products and other areas where we feel that there are barriers to access or there are easier or better ways to get those products. We are always looking at ways to expand our impact and be a resource and a tool to the groups of people who need us.”
If you are interested in learning more about Project N95, or want to make a donation or volunteer, check out their website here!