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A retail business that sells essential apparel and footwear brands for Americans in the health care, industrial and restaurant industries is now taking charge of an effort to help both its customers and employees during the coronavirus pandemic.
Work ‘N Gear, a retailer with 40 stores across a number of states, has donated over 8,000 pairs of scrubs from its proprietary brand Scrubology and other brands to nursing homes, testing centers, and health care facilities include Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Massachusetts, Tri-State Community Health Center in Maryland, and Mount Sinai in New York.
“We had a huge supply closet with brand-new scrub samples from photoshoots and previous seasons’ scrubs. We were being as scrappy as possible, pulling from anything we can repurpose to donate,” said Alisha Spada, executive vice president of Work ‘N Gear, about making use out of all the scrubs they had in store for frontline doctors and nurses in need of apparel during the pandemic.
In partnership with other retail brands, more than a thousand “care packages” have also been donated to a range of individual healthcare professionals, whether they’re in a hospital treating COVID-19 patients or a local ophthalmologist office open for emergencies only. Some items in these care packages include stethoscopes, medical scissors, snacks, Yeti Coffee tumbler, RX Gear compression socks, and Barco lunch bags.
Work ‘N Gear was so overwhelmed with requests on its website, social media, and customer service department for scrubs and accessories that it had to convert conference rooms at its headquarters in Massachusetts into a storage room for boxes of medical scissors, headbands and other donated products. Employees assemble the care packages for healthcare workers in the safe conference room alongside other co-workers, following state social distancing requirements.
To speed up delivery time and keep up with the high demand, the retailer’s distribution facility located near the headquarters also lent a hand to pack and ship donated scrubs and care packages.
“Nurses and doctors were coming in buying dozens of scrubs that they can reuse or wash because a lot of hospitals weren’t providing scrubs for their employees,” says Alisha Spada, executive vice president of Work ‘N Gear. “More and more donation requests kept coming in. It did turn into a much greater thing than we initially expected.”
The employees working in store or on deliveries during the pandemic were in also in need of masks for their own protection against the coronavirus, but as the number of cases and death heightened so did the demand for PPE.
While Work ‘N Gear was waiting to receive a shipment of masks, Kelly Hernandez, a senior regional manager who oversees five of its stores in Massachusetts, went from sewing mittens and scrunchies for fun to learning how to make a CDC-approved face mask, made out of 100 percent cotton.
“I’m was in a very lucky situation because I had this gigantic bag of elastic, when there’s a tremendous shortage of elastic,” she tells Fox News, explaining how she made use of what she already had at home from making hair ties. “The employees, they’re in store working through this pandemic doing everything and anything they can. This is my little piece that I can contribute.”
At first, Hernandez took an hour to make a single mask. In time, she was able to make as many as six in an hour.
When other Work ‘N Gear stores heard she was supplying face masks to employees during dire times, other store managers started to ask Kelly if she could make them masks for employees too. Without hesitation, she went to work on her sewing machine to ship out as many masks as she could to Work ‘N Gear stores in other states like Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
“A total of 3.73 miles of thread has been 100-percent used to make masks,” Kelly said, adding she has no plans to stop. “I’m going to keep going until nobody needs them anymore.”
As of today, Hernandez has donated close to 500 face masks for all Work ‘N Gear employees who she believes are the “stars.” She is also donating masks to neighbors, co-worker’s families, nursing homes and anyone else in need free of no charge. Today, she’s sewing masks for the reopening of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, in Bourne, Mass.
She uses either red, white and blue fabrics or stripes and stars patterns to symbolize patriotism for the Work ‘N Gear employees delivering packages and working in retail locations.
“The stores are working the front lines, serving other essential workers that are working the front lines,” says Spada.
Normally around this time of year, there’s an influx of footwear and apparel sales, like waterproof boots or high-visibility vests. The buyers? Blue-collar workers in the industrial industry who depend on the warmer months for work. That sector of the company’s retail business has been “hit to the negative” while the “health care industry is keeping Work ‘N Gear afloat,” says Alisha.
“Contractors, landscapers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians — a lot of them aren’t considered essential. Many projects are delayed or construction work is on hold. Some are working but it’s not in masses, their workwear isn’t worn out as much. This isn’t business as usual,” said Tony DiPaolo, the company’s president and CEO.
“I was floored when the whole country shut down. There’s no game plan when something like this happens. This is managed by the hour, not managed by the month,” he says, adding that he hopes to reopen the three closed Work ‘N Gear stores located in malls that were issued closed due to state protocols during the pandemic.