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Lebanon giveaway helps people in need of masks cover up for coronavirus

  • John Sweetland, Enfield, N.H. signals four masks for the next car at a MaskUp NH! event on the Hanover, Lebanon, N.H. town line on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. The Rotary Clubs of Hanover and Lebanon, the Upper Valley Business Alliance and the Upper Valley Young Professionals were giving away free masks. Kathy Geraghty, of Hanover, on the right helps in the mask give away. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon Rotary member, Ron Bedell, of West Lebanon, N.H., collects donations at a mask giveaway on the Hanover-Lebanon, N.H. town line on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. Rotary officials said the event raised $2,000, which will go to support Listen Community Services and the Upper Valley Haven. The Hanover and Lebanon Rotary Clubs, along with the Upper Valley Business Alliance, and the Upper Valley Young Professionals distributed masks during the two-day event. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Anna Shaw, of Hanover, N.H., takes masks from Hanover Rotary member Kathy Geraghty, of Hanover, during a mask giveaway on the Lebanon-Hanover, N.H. town line on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/8/2020 9:35:34 PM
Modified: 8/8/2020 9:35:31 PM

LEBANON — Around the Upper Valley, stores, restaurants and entire towns are cracking down on mask use to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — and some local groups are helping residents prepare.

On Friday and Saturday morning, volunteers stood under the sun in a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center parking lot, handing out over 3,000 face masks to anyone who came by — about 500 cars’ worth of people over two days.

In one of those cars Saturday was Bob and Muriel Steinberg, of West Lebanon, who were especially thankful to find free, reusable masks to cut their risk of catching or spreading the deadly virus.

“We’re in our mid-80s, and we have pre-existing conditions,” Bob Steinberg said Saturday, speaking from his car as the couple picked up four masks. “If we get it, we’re gone.”

Some cars took around 20 masks for family members and friends, according to Tracy Hutchins of the Upper Valley Business Alliance, which put on the event along with members of Rotary Clubs in Hanover and Lebanon and the Upper Valley Young Professionals. The event was one of several giveaways around New Hampshire as part of a program called Mask Up NH!

“We’ve had a lot of people come through and thank us,” Hutchins said, adding that she’s seen a “steady stream” of cars over the two days.

Saturday’s event was timely, as the push to wear masks moves from gentle encouragement to fineable mandate in more communities. Hanover and Enfield recently instituted rules requiring face masks in public places, and Lebanon is continuing to flesh out its own proposed ordinance. Vermont has had a statewide mandate in effect since Aug. 1.

The masks are reusable and washable, unlike many of the more common disposable surgical masks, Hutchins said, though they don’t rise to the level of many upscale cloth products.

Lisa Labee, of Newport, Vt., up by the Canadian border, said she made the drive down to Lebanon on Saturday because many reusable masks — and especially the cloth ones — are too costly.

“There are nice ones out there, if you have money to spend,” she said with a laugh.

Claremont resident Chuck Kusselow also made the trek for the giveaway, saying he wanted to order reusable cloth masks online but gave up when he found a site selling four masks for $50.

“The quality ones are harder (to find),” he said. “We’re older. We could use the masks.”

For many people at the event, the decision to wear masks was just as much about protecting other people as it was about their own safety.

Robert Atencio, of Norwich, said he has several masks at home but was getting more to ensure he always has one to wear to prevent inadvertently spreading the virus to others.

“It’s for the benefit of all people,” he said.

That public benefit was the reason Hutchins said the UVBA first joined Mask Up NH!, along with the opportunity to educate people about mask use.

“We had such a problem with business owners saying customers would come in without masks,” she said, noting reports of customers becoming hostile when told to wear a mask. The weekend event was meant to encourage more mask-wearing and give people the ability to do so, she said.

The larger statewide program began after Alex Ray, owner of The Common Man restaurant in Plymouth, N.H., hired residents in Honduras to make masks so he could donate them to local rotary clubs in New Hampshire. Since then, the program has distributed tens of thousands of masks across the state, according to its website.

And Mask Up’s work may not be done anytime soon.

Lyme resident Sheila Dubuque, who stopped to pick up extra masks Saturday, summed up the feelings of many Upper Valley residents who attended the giveaway: “It seems like we’re going to be wearing masks for a long while.”

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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