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Ann Arbor service industry group organizes mask distribution to workers in need

Bar, restaurant, cafe workers can sign up for free masks

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Workers in the service industry in need of masks will soon have help thanks to an Ann Arbor organization looking to distribute over 1,000 masks around Tree Town.

“The only criteria thus far is that you must be someone who is currently working in a bar, restaurant or cafe in Washtenaw County,” said Gabrielle Bussell, an organizer for Service Industry Workers of the Ann Arbor Area (SIWA3).

The group has received 1,000 KN95 masks from the Washtenaw County Free Mask program and 120 masks from a private donor that it will give to local service industry workers for free.

Currently, SIWA3 volunteers are carefully putting together mask packages, each containing four masks, how-to-use instructions, a small bottle of donated hand sanitizer and information about SIWA3.

Service Industry Workers of the Ann Arbor Area will distribute mask packages (see above) to industry workers in need in Washtenaw County. (Service Industry Workers of the Ann Arbor Area)

“We’re focusing specifically on this group of workers because of the risks involved with indoor dining,” Bussell said, noting that the service industry is a large field and that the organization will expand distribution criteria based on worker needs and the number of masks it can acquire.

Bussell said that currently 80 of the donated masks are N95s and that SIWA3 is working with additional private donors to get more masks.

“We anticipate that a lot of workers need these masks. We do know that, based on research, that KN95s are some of the best level of protection you can have mask-wise so we really want to get these out to people,” Bussell said.

She added that the masks might be hard for workers to find or afford on their own given the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the service industry.

“We know that a lot of service industry workers are struggling financially right now, so we think it’s really important to be able to get these out to them free of cost. It’s really crucial right now,” she said.

Right now, workers at restaurants, bars and cafes are asked to reach out through a Google document so that the organization can gauge needs and figure out the best way to distribute the masks.

Bussell said that SIWA3 volunteers may bring the masks directly to restaurants where workers have requested them. Another route, depending on demand, may be to set up mask pick-up locations.

The organization is focused on mutual aid efforts for industry workers in need, workplace organization and service worker advocacy. During the 2020 holiday season, it raised over $10,000 in mutual aid for service workers struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SIWA3 is also looking for donations and volunteers to support its efforts. Those interested can send an email to siwa32020@gmail.com.

Workers in the service industry can also stay up-to-date with the organization’s plans and planned events through its Facebook group.

Members of Service Industry Workers of the Ann Arbor Area at the March for Workers' Safety on October 24th, 2020. In addition to mutual aid, SIWA3 also advocates for service industry workers and helps with workplace organization. (Elise Brehob)

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.