Inland Empire residents form COVID Mask Force, donate over 7,000 3-ply face masks

Photo Zomy Hernandez: Pictured are Zomy Hernandez and Jacqueline Friedel at the forefront, along with Jeannette Fregeolle, Diana Baez, Brittany Alvarez, Jessica Soto, Barb Clark, Norma Chavira, Sally Olmedo, Teena Naumann, Janelle Asti, and Michelle Martinez.

Zomy Hernandez of Rialto and Jacqueline Friedel of Covina have found much success within their selflessness, as they have formed the Inland Empire’s first COVID Mask Force and donated over 7,000 3-ply facemasks, thus far.

Hernandez, a stay-at-home mother, was in a local grocery store on March 20 and recounts breaking down in tears after witnessing the lack of facemasks present.

“I broke down in tears and when I went home I asked myself, ‘What can I do to help?’ I know that I can sew,” said Hernandez.

She then logged into neighborhood social media platform NextDoor and asked if any healthcare professionals, front line employees, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems were in need of a facemask.

“I sent out that message on NextDoor and I was instantly flooded with messages. It got to the point that I had to create a spreadsheet to track and log how many masks were needed, just to stay organized,” continued Hernandez.

On March 21, Hernandez received a message from another community advocate, Friedel, who inquired about assisting in the operations of the initiative.

“I just love Zomy’s story and I myself have seen the astronomical need for masks, especially in the healthcare sector. I can’t sew, but I knew that I could assist in the overall operations, and even packaging and shipping,” said Friedel.

The immediate hurdle that both Hernandez and Friedel were faced with was a lack of immediate access to elastic.

“I have a background in theater and contacted every single professor and anyone I have a connection with, literally hunting down elastic for these masks. I drove all the way to Pasadena to pick up a supply from my former professor,” continued Friedel.

Friedel shared that through her outreach, many of her connections, including her former choir professor volunteered to assist in sewing.

It was around this time frame that Hernandez was inspired to turn this one-man band, into a full-on committee, called the COVID Mask Force.

Today, the COVID Mask Force consists of its founder Hernandez, Operations Manager Friedel, 13 seamstresses, two fabric cutters and one elastic cutter.

“The emails that we have received have been so heartbreaking. One day we received 800 emails regarding a request for facemasks. I can recount one specific email where the individual stated, ‘Help us, we need protection,’” Hernandez said.

Since inception, the COVID Mask Force has donated masks to dozens of hospitals including Loma Linda University Health, the entire Rialto Police Department, water departments, and many individuals and organizations pleading for protection in the community; and as far as New York, New Jersey and even Florida.

The self-funded and distributed Mask Force team who has been working 14-18 hours per day aims to reach a mask donation peak of 10,000.

“We never imagined this could be what it is today. To have so many wonderful women volunteer, people contribute and donate and open their hearts to our efforts and cause was amazing. Thank you to everyone involved in moving our efforts forward and getting us to where we are as a group today,” concluded Hernandez.

For more information, follow the COVID Mask Force on Instagram at @_themaskforce.