SHEFFIELD – Bank Independent team members have sewn and distributed over 1,000 protective masks to hospitals across North Alabama over the past few weeks to help increase the pool of supplies during the COVIC-19 crisis.

The bank began implementing its pandemic plan in early March in preparation for the unknown. It was determined to prioritize the health and safety of the team while ensuring everyone felt secure in their job position.

“Day to day work life changed pretty dramatically, especially for my team,” said Community Engagement Officer, Nikki Randolph. “In the span of just a few days, we went from having a scheduled community event almost every day to figuring out how to continue volunteering in a quarantined environment.”

The idea of sewing masks was inspired by hundreds of other grassroots efforts around the country. Healthcare providers nationwide were facing an alarming shortage of personal protective equipment. Many people found themselves on stay-at-home orders with time on their hands and a desire to help. A booming handmade production line was created to fill a growing need for masks.

Local hospitals began welcoming mask donations to support healthcare staff. Randolph immediately started researching patterns of hospital-approved masks and the availability of materials locally and online. Her first estimate of how many masks could be completed and distributed by her team were relatively modest when she submitted the idea to the bank’s Chief People Officer, Penny Camp.

“That’s when the idea became bigger than the community engagement team,” explains Camp. “We sent a request for volunteers, and our team members answered,” said Penny Camp, Bank Independent’s Chief People Officer. “Some of our team members already had a talent for sewing and others were just passionate about making a positive difference and wIlling to learn. We had some team members who were still doing their regular job and sewing masks in their spare time. We had some team members who were working remotely, unable to do their everyday job, but contributing to our community efforts by creating masks. With all the extra help, we realized we could have a much larger impact than originally thought.”

The team of volunteers followed very specific protocols in the production of masks. Hands, work areas, and supplies were sanitized prior to construction. Only materials and patterns approved for use in medical facilities were used. In addition, each finished mask was carefully individually packaged to minimize cross contamination before and after distribution.

“Our team of volunteers has been able to provide masks to hospitals across our seven-county footprint,” said Randolph. “We’ve relied on our team members to reach out to friends and family working in the healthcare profession to discover where the need is greatest. Those contacts have been an invaluable resource accepting and distributing the masks within the hospitals. Their help has allowed us keep our social distance and our presence from being a disruption to the hospitals we support.”

More than 1,000 masks have been distributed to Helen Keller Hospital, North Alabama Medical Center, Athens-Limestone Hospital, Huntsville Hospital, and the Decatur-Morgan Hospital.

“I’m very proud to see how this project has come together over the last few weeks,” said Camp. “I think it is a testament to the spirit of volunteerism here at the bank and across the communities we serve. The common thread is our shared gratitude for what we’ve been given and our commitment to pay it forward.”