Ypsilanti residents are getting a little extra help dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic through a COVID assistance care package program sponsored by the city. Residents may apply online to receive a care package while supplies last.
City Council approved the program May 5 after learning that the city was eligible for $44,937 in Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding from the U.S. Department of Justice. Care packages include hand sanitizer, disinfectant, one cloth reusable face mask for each family member, two rolls of toilet paper, and two rolls of paper towels.
Each care package also includes instructions on proper use of face masks and other supplies, as well as information about the Washtenaw County Barrier Busters program for residents who need rent, utility, or mortgage assistance. City staff have received more than 500 applications since the program launched.
"We finally managed to catch up on the applications received from residents this week and provide daily pickup or delivery options by request through our online application," says Christopher Jacobs, community development manager for the city.
Residents who sign up online will be assigned a pickup date and time when they can retrieve their packages from city hall. The city is also using existing distribution channels, including Ypsilanti Community Schools and the managers at Chidester Place and Town Centre Place apartments, to get supplies out. Every resident at the two apartment complexes has received a care package.
"We tried to prioritize these older populations in low-income housing with the first distributions, then proceeded to distribute to folks through the Ypsilanti Senior Center," Jacobs says. "Ozone House and Parkridge [Community Center] have been identified as the next priority sites for distribution this week."
Cloth masks in the care packages were provided through a partnership with Engage@EMU, Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) community engagement office. Engage@EMU started the EMU PPE Project in mid-March in response to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital administrators' request for fabric masks to help protect employees working on non-COVID-19 units. The health system has approved the masks' material and design for use by its non-medical staff.
Julie Vogl, program coordinator with Engage@EMU, calls it a "great partnership" since EMU students, staff, faculty, and alumni had already been making cloth masks through a "volunteer remote assembly line," using fabric ordered locally from the Ann Arbor Sewing Center.
"It's a great project and very similar to what Engage does on any given day," Vogl says. "We're just pivoting a bit and helping the community access resources we have, connecting campus to the community, and seeing how we can help."
Originally, volunteers who couldn't sew cut out masks and elastic, and those who could sew picked up the kits at the EMU Public Safety building and finished the masks. Then Julie Becker, interim director for EMU's School of Technology and Professional Services Management; and Holly Mosher, a lecturer in the school's Fashion Marketing Innovation Department, offered to begin using the department's industrial fabric cutters to speed up the process.
Holly Mosher, a lecturer in the school's Fashion Marketing Innovation Department and member of EMU's volunteer sewing corps, irons fabric for masks.
"It makes mask production a lot easier," Vogl says, especially after the city upped its order from 2,500 masks to 3,000, including a few dozen in children's sizes.
Jacobs says volunteers from all city departments and the fire department came to city hall and got health screenings before coming together in the city hall chambers to put the care packages together. That process included transferring disinfectant and hand sanitizer from large jugs to travel-size containers and labeling each container.
"Masks are arriving weekly from our partnership with EMU and getting in the hands of residents who need them most to participate in daily and civic life," Jacobs says. "This is especially true as we return to commercial and public spaces again for the first time in months."
City residents can apply for COVID assistance care packages here.
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at email@example.com.
Photos courtesy of Engage@EMU.