DENVER — RTD bus drivers, who had previously expressed concerns about being exposed to COVID-19 because of a face mask shortage, are breathing a little easier these days.
Mile High Connects is a grassroots transit-oriented coalition that works with nonprofits and philanthropic partners to ensure that the local transit system "fosters communities that offer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life," according to its website. Mile High Connects reached out to a high-end mountain bike manufacturer in Golden and an art center in Denver to see if they'd be willing to help solve RTD's mask shortage.
Both entities answered the call.
Yeti Cyles in Golden briefly switched from making bikes to manufacturing masks and plastic face shields. The shop produced 2,000 face masks and 240 face shields for the transit agency.
"I am delighted that Yeti Cycles of Golden, a Colorado company, pivoted to meet the current demand of today, especially as we move our way through this health crisis," said Maggie Lea, the director of programs at Mile High Connects.
At the RedLine Contemporary Art Center in Denver, several artists, who found themselves out of work after Denver's mayor and Colorado's governor issued stay-at-home orders, were asked to make masks from home.
Lea said Mile High Connects was able to kickstart that business with a $3,000 grant, "leveraging national dollars from our friends at the Strong, Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge."
Matthew Stearns was one of the artists grateful to get the call.
"This mask-making project has really been a lifesaver for quite a bit of our community," he said, referring to the closure of the RedLine Center in late March.
"It was heartbreaking when I found out my projects were being canceled," he said. "I wasn't sure what I was going to do next."
Stearns said he and his wife both know how to sew, so they pivoted from their art work to making masks.
"My mother is a nurse, so I know how important it is to stay protected," he said. "This project really means a lot to me."
RedLine's Executive Director Louise Martorano said the transition began when another artist began making masks, and when another alumni, whose husband works at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, expressed concern about the pandemic.
"We saw immediately the need to connect the crisis around livelihoods and the crisis of public health ... to solve those two challenges in at least a small way," she said.
Martoranto said RedLine artists had already made masks for the St. Francis Center, Gathering Place, Denver Rescue Mission and Urban Peak.
"We have delivered around 2,000 masks for the five entities," she said. "For RTD, it was a specific request for driver — 300 masks."
"Talk about a community coming together," Lea said. "Meeting the demands, connecting the dots, insuring that frontline essential workers are protected and therefore, the community is protected in this novel situation that we're in."
Lea said as of Wednesday, the RedLine artists have made 200 masks and will deliver a total of 300 masks later this week, "to help protect RTD operators and personnel, and therefore protect our community in this time of crisis."
Christina Zazueta, RTD's community engagement manager, said they are grateful for the donations they have received.
"We are moved by the ongoing work our various partners and community members are undertaking to ensure our operators have the much-needed protective equipment to continue their work," she said. "The region is counting on our continued service and these contributions mean that we can continue safe operations with more safety options for our operators. The need for this equipment is ongoing as we look toward the eventual reopening of our cities, and we continue to accept masks for RTD operators."