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Bank Independent sews, delivers more than 1,000 masks to local hospitals

With the onset of the coronavirus, businesses and groups across the nation have identified ways to go beyond their usual scope of service and help meet the needs created by the pandemic. In the past few weeks, Bank Independent team members have sewn and distributed more than 1,000 protective masks to hospitals across north Alabama to augment supplies needed during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Bank Independent began implementing a “pandemic plan” during the early days of March in preparation for the unknown, according to bank officials. As was true for most businesses, social distancing and unprecedented teleworking quickly became the order of business.

“Day-to-day work life changed pretty dramatically, especially for my team,” said community engagement officer Nikki Randolph. “Bank Independent team members are personally involved in giving back to the community. In the span of just a few days time, we went from having a scheduled community event almost every day to trying to figure out how to continue to volunteer in this new, quarantined environment.”

Randolph said the idea of sewing masks wasn’t original to the bank but rather inspired by hundreds of other grassroots efforts around the country. Healthcare providers nationwide were facing an alarming shortage of personal protective equipment, and the many people who found themselves on stay-at-home orders, with time on their hands, had 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 said she immediately started researching patterns of hospital-approved masks and the availability of materials, both locally and online. 

Her first estimate of how many masks could be completed and distributed by her team were relatively modest when she first submitted the idea to the bank’s chief people officer Penny Camp. That’s when the idea expanded to include additional team members, many of whom were already working remotely and contributing individually to local mask-making efforts.

“We sent a request for volunteers, and our team members answered,” said Camp. “Some of our team members already had a talent for sewing; 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, and then we had some team members who were working remotely, unable to do their everyday jobs 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 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. 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.”

The masks have been distributed to Keller Hospital, North Alabama Medical Center, Athens-Limestone Hospital, Huntsville Hospital and Decatur-Morgan Hospital.

“I’m very proud to see how this project has come together over the past 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.”