Some Brandon nonprofits are interested in helping distribute KN95 masks and other personal protective equipment to the public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
There are more options available through nonprofits and community organizations to help distribute PPE outside of liquor stores and casinos across the province, said Ross Robinson, executive director of the John Howard Society of Brandon. He was shocked when the government chose to rely on these latest facilities for its first mask distribution efforts.
“We have vaccination sites, we have screening sites, we have a lot of places [through which] I think masks could be distributed better,” Robinson said. “These are areas that people are going in with regard to the issues of COVID-19, and [distributing] passing them through places that could trigger addictions or worse is fundamentally wrong.”
“It should be in the hands of the people who need it, without stigma, without any difficulty or challenge and certainly without any requirement to provide identification,” Robinson said. He noted that many people who access the company’s services do not always have ID readily available.
Having access to government-provided PPE, such as KN95 masks — which health officials say offer better protection against the virus than cloth masks — at nonprofits like the John Howard Society do not would not only ensure easy access to those in need, he said, but would also serve to connect customers to other tools and resources that offer multi-faceted support.
Ask Auntie Brandon coordinator Florence Halcrow said it would be beneficial to explore different avenues of mask distribution in the province
Mail could be an effective step, she said, but there would be an advantage in providing access through nonprofits like Ask Auntie, the Brandon Friendship Centre, the Safe and Warm Shelter, because these organizations offer comprehensive services.
“They should be sent to organizations that are helping the people they’re trying to target. Make them accessible to organizations that are helping,” Halcrow said. “Make it easy for them to get them, so they can bring them to people who walk into their spaces.”
The Blue Door project sees 35 to 50 people go through each day, as well as people accessing the Brandon Food Council’s food rescue grocery store in the same space.
“We have all kinds of people passing through there on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I think that would be one of the good places to leave masks because a lot of people access this store and the blue door,” said Halcrow.
The Blue Door received about 1,000 medical masks about a month ago and there are about 70 left, she said. They do their best to get more.
“I think organizations that serve individuals naturally would be one of the best places to capture most of the people they miss,” Halcrow said.
Kim Iwasiuk, director of counseling and advocacy at the Brandon Women’s Resource Centre, said in discussions with colleagues that it was concerning to see KN95 masks distributed in liquor stores because many people do not not feel safe or comfortable entering these establishments.
“For some people, there might be concerns about addiction and having to show ID as well, if they come in,” Iwasiuk said.
She added that another layer is the ongoing discourse on positive mental health and dealing with addiction during the pandemic.
“We really leave a lot of people unable to get a mask that could be really important to them,” Iwasiuk said. “Those of us who work in this field are happy to help in any way possible – I would be very grateful to get some KN95s.”
Selecting a space like a liquor store for PPE distribution can create barriers to access, she added. The key to solving these challenges is to create more options for people looking to access PPE.
The Women’s Resource Center has been working throughout the pandemic to stay connected with clients and would be happy to distribute KN95 masks or other PPE, Iwasiuk said.
“We truly believe that we are such a safe space for people in our community, free from judgment. [and] always ready to help. People know they can stop and ask us things openly.”
Early in the pandemic, the nonprofit received medical masks from Maple Leaf and the Red Cross and was trained in the proper use of PPE. These items are still used and available.
“It’s really important to give [people] any form of assistance to keep them safe for their health,” Iwasiuk said.
A provincial spokesperson said that as a crown corporation, the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation works directly with the province, and distribution efforts through MBLL have enabled the province to provide masks to Manitobans more efficiently and quickly. At this time, Manitoba has fully distributed all available stock of KN95 masks.