By Ruth E. Hernandez Beltran
New York, Apr 2 (efe-epa).- Colombian fashion designer Raul Peñaranda and his Latino work team have stepped up to make a contribution in the battle against the coronavirus, sewing facemasks for the medical personnel who are risking their lives in New York hospitals, the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.
“The idea is how a human being can contribute to (the battle against) this pandemic, which is affecting everyone,” said the designer, who is hoping to contribute 10,000 masks, of which about 2,000 have already been distributed to three Manhattan hospitals.
Seeing the efforts of the healthcare personnel, who – overwhelmed by the huge number of infected people in New York – are working long hours and are short of equipment in the fight to save lives, is what motivated him to do something.
“I have friends who are working in hospitals and on hearing about what they’re experiencing I wanted to help them. At first, I wanted to do something for them, something small but then it morphed” into a project to help the greatest number of healthcare workers that he could, Peñaranda said.
“This started out for my friends, but I’m a designer. I know how to cut cloth, I know how to sew. So, I can make a mask. I did it because I want to protect my friends, but the messages that they’ve been sending me (about the situation in the hospitals) is like they were in a third world war with an invisible enemy,” he said.
Peñaranda said that he could not just stand by while reading messages from his friends “where this seems like something out of a horror film, those films that you never thought would become reality.”
“What I want is to be able to make my little contribution,” he emphasized.
Two weeks ago, the Colombian decided to move from ideas to action and on a Saturday he went to his workshop in Manhattan, where in less than three hours he cut the cloth for 1,400 masks and the next Monday prepared 3,000, and ultimately had enough for 7,000 masks.
Peñaranda, who went from being a bellboy at a Manhattan hotel to a fashion designer, has obtained the enthusiastic support for this project from Marina Nuñez, an expert in clothing patterns, from her children Andy and Nina and from seamstress Maria Perez.
In addition to masks for healthcare workers and children, the group turned its efforts to preparing some plastic protection devices that cover the faces of doctors with a plastic shield.
They contacted New York authorities to find out what the healthcare workers’ needs were regarding the facial protection.
But the list is long and time is short. It’s the masks that they need most urgently.
“Although we have the materials, and the cloth’s thickness is like that of the N95 masks, because of a legal issue (the authorities) wanted to see the finished product” and complying with all those requirements would take three or four weeks, “time that we don’t have.”
After consulting with an attorney, they continued with the production of the needed masks with the warning that they have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, “but they should be used as an extra layer of protection for their N95 masks and so that’s what all the nurses we’ve taken them to are doing.”
The first masks were delivered to personnel at Mt. Sinai, Lenox Hill and Sloan Kettering hospitals, all of which are in Manhattan.
Peñaranda’s project has attracted other people via the social networks who have contacted him because they want to make or send masks and they want to be sure that they get to the people who need them, and so he’s advising them on what materials to use, the requirements and logistics.
The designer said that the materials he has on hand for making masks is just about used up and he cannot acquire any more because of the disruption caused by the virus.
But, he said, “I’d like to keep helping coordinate efforts with volunteers, and if someone needs to connect with others” who also want to make a difference.