By Robert Friend, Assistant Rotary Public Image Coordinator for Zone 32
In the early morning of 29 September, a cargo ship carrying 800,000 face masks arrived at the Port of Boston. Over the course of the following 14 days, those masks were delivered to first responders, healthcare providers, and frontline workers in cities, towns, and villages across New England.
This is a story of service and leadership. It’s a story of how our District and Zone responded to a crisis, rallied its resources, put boots-on-the-ground to bring disparate and far-flung communities together to spread goodwill. Most importantly, it’s a story about working together and using our collective professional backgrounds through the Rotary network to make a difference.
Our project began with Ted Rossi, a 20-year member of the Rotary Club of East Hampton, Connecticut. Rossi is president and CEO of the Rossi Group, one of the most well-known and respected leaders in the American hardwood export industry.
Frustrated by dysfunctional governmental leadership in taking control of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) acquisition and distribution, Ted turned to his team with the international logistics and the know-how to leverage their contacts and focus on sourcing masks for the region. Initial success brought more than eight million masks to the states of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.
It became evident there was large demand for face masks downstream. Jack turned to his Rotary connections to leverage his idea to get even better results. He reached out to Jack Solomon, our district governor at the time, a fellow member of the East Hampton club. Ted needed Jack to get the masks to Rotarians for distribution, and Jack needed someone to “project manage” the tour and run logistics from an event and media standpoint.
That’s where I came in, as a global sales, marketing and communications professional and chair of our District’s Public Image and Communications Committee. I coordinated with our district communications team and managed all the logistics for our tour through seven Rotary districts.
Our district fund-raising efforts brought in $500,000 during the first three months of the pandemic that we used to support those impacted by COVID-19. The Rossi Family Foundation donated an additional 200,000 masks to the cause distributed to clubs across Connecticut. With all of this, District 7980 expanded the program into what we called the Million Mask Challenge Tour.
How we did it
We challenged each club to guarantee that each and every PPE received was delivered to first-responders and essential workers. We asked Rotary Zones and Districts across the country to join our cause by leveraging their own resources to deliver protection and safety to essential workers. And we challenged our Rotary corporate partners, NGO’s, and the business community, whom we connect with every day, to step up and join us in this unprecedented spirit of giving back.
The first week of October, a 26-foot truck, emblazoned on all sides with the Million Mask Challenge message, traveled over 500 miles through ten cities throughout the region. At each of the distribution locations, the host district held a Media and Distribution Event to share our story. The media event embraced first responders, essential workers, and those receiving the PPE. A 20-minute media presentation brought community leaders (governors, mayors, on air talent, and community advocates) together to participate in distributing masks to Rotarians and those businesses in need.
Ted explained his motivations for this project.
“The state was not able to deliver to smaller community organizations and nursing homes, so I realized this is perfect for Rotary. We could facilitate the supply of masks that Rotary clubs can take and distribute in small lots within their communities. What started out as a small project snowballed into something really big.”
This project reinforces how Rotary uses its professional backgrounds, diverse perspectives, and global connections to change the world for the better. We were able to secure extensive media exposure for Rotary, with the help of iHeart media. Our project caught the interest of Tyler Saari, an independent filmmaker in Connecticut, who owns his own production company Shutter Media, to make a documentary of the tour.
We are about to embark on the second wave of our tour. During the week of 11 January, a Million Mask truck will travel throughout New England and into Manhattan to deliver additional masks. We would love your help. Learn more about our project .
About the author: Robert Friend is an active leader with Rotary District 7980 in Southern Connecticut. He currently serves as chair of the District’s Public Image and Communications Committee and as an Assistant Rotary Public Image Coordinator for Rotary Zone 32. Additionally, Robert is a Major Donor – Level 1, and a member of the Paul Harris Society.