“We make the most of what we are given, and we look after each other.”
Those words didn’t come cheaply to Phil Mc Namara, an Irishman who has been living in Buffalo for the last four years.
Mc Namara has been studying addiction counseling at Erie County Community College and working as a bartender at Resurgence Brewing, in addition to pursuing an internship under the tutelage of Dr. Tony Martinez at Erie County Medical Center. But overnight, when the pandemic hit, his schedule went from perpetually packed to virtually vacant.
Cut adrift in a city that was still relatively new to him, with most of his family back home in Dublin, Ireland, Mc Namara opted out of the self-pity that might’ve been his due. Instead, he looked around him, took inspiration from what he viewed as a populace imbued with a proper blend of toughness and heart, saw an area where he might contribute to the greater good, and got busy.
“When I was let go from my job as a bartender and my school shut down, I felt very helpless and thought right away of calling Dr. Tony,” Mc Namara recalled. “After a very revealing conversation about the state of (personal protective equipment) and preparedness, I knew something needed to be done.”
That something turned out to be the genesis of #BuffaloResilience, a grassroots campaign that finds everyday people lending a hand to health care workers on the front lines by making protective masks and other personal protective equipment on a volunteer basis.
“It started very small, just a group text message to a bunch of bartenders, bar owners, people who I felt might be connected to companies, industry, construction companies and so forth,” Mc Namara said. “I was looking for donations of N95 masks, or similar. I thought we, as service industry people, were well-situated to have worked with or served some influential people in the city. I thought those contacts would be useful and might be able to produce the right connection.”
He started a Facebook group as a central place to communicate, and quickly realized a lot of PPE had either been purchased or donated already. A lot of the people joining the Facebook group were asking about masks.
“The direction then turned from donating existing PPE, to creating or manufacturing it,” Mc Namara said. “We became a hub for community discussion and exploration of how best to help – best fabric, best style and template. I didn’t know how much thought went into a face mask until then. It also became clear that #BuffaloResilience would be best used as a hub for information and connection. So, we became a community volunteer network.”
That volunteer network would greatly benefit from the efforts of concerned colleagues in the local food services industry. Fat Bob's Smokehouse owner Patrick Ryan put Mc Namara in contact with a relative at Custom Covers and Canvas in Niagara Falls.
“From that moment on, we built up a lot of momentum very quickly,” Mc Namara said. “Eric Winstanley (at Custom Covers and Canvas) could cut fabric on a large scale and if we could get material, we could supply the network we had built with everything needed to make useful masks for the hospitals and other front-line essential workers in need.”
The success of an initiative like this one is contingent upon public support. Though not necessarily surprised by it, Mc Namara was deeply moved by the public response. There are more than 1,500 members of the Facebook group and more than 300 individual volunteers.
“It has been incredible,” he said. “Buffalo people are hardy and they want to be involved and be useful. Resilience is a word that describes them very well. ... We have coworkers and friends driving all over Erie and Niagara counties dropping off kits to volunteers. We can’t keep up with the demand for kits. As soon as we drop them off, the sewers want more.”
Handmade masks are collected at 273 Richmond Ave., at Resurgence Brewing at 55 Chicago St. and F.E. Brown Sons Funeral Home at 6575 E. Quaker St. in Orchard Park.
The bulk of the #BuffaloResilience masks are designed for health professionals, but Mc Namara and team knew the demand was there for general use equipment as well.
“We’ve made sure that other community organizations looking after at-risk populations receive masks, too,” he said. “Homeless shelters, nursing homes, ambulatory care, day care providers – all needed protective equipment and they were not in a position to buy masks. Our community worked hard to reach out to these places and provide what we could.
“Individuals and companies are the heart of this movement and without them, #Buffalo Resilience could do little.”
Most of Mc Namara's family remains in Dublin, in lockdown.
“My parents miss their grandkids most of all,” he said. “I think they wished I would have come home throughout all of this. But I am meant to be here, doing this.”
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Anyone interested in volunteering or contributing to #BuffaloResilience cause can visit BuffaloResilience.com.