Coronavirus cases may still be climbing, but King County is sticking to Phase 2 of re-opening which means businesses are flinging open their doors to invite you inside. Now might not be the healthiest time for, say, attending a crowded concert; but with a few safety precautions you can pay a visit to your local furniture polisher or bookstore or haberdasher with minimal risk.
Now, about those safety precautions. As a customer, you already know what to do: Wear a mask and stay as distant as possible from other people; avoid touching surfaces if you don’t have to; and wash your hands at every opportunity. (And if you’re experiencing symptoms, get tested immediately and don’t leave the house.)
But what if you’re running a business, what then? That’s where Business Health Trust’s Safe Start Kits and an army of volunteers comes in.
BHT are themselves a local nonprofit, and they found themselves scrambling to adjust to quarantimes. Under normal circumstances, they provide health insurance services to nearly a thousand small businesses around Washington, but a few months ago they realized that strange times called for a change.
“I’ve found myself in the volunteer distribution businesses,” says Sarai Childs, BHT’s executive director. Under her leadership, the organization has been coordinating supply runs for partner organizations, advising business owners on how to get PPE, and figuring out how to procure and send hand sanitizer stations to essential businesses.
Their biggest new undertaking is the Safe Start Supply Kit, a literally life-saving assortment of masks and hand sanitizer available to businesses in King County. So far they’ve handed out four million masks and 25,000 bottles of hand sanitizer.
With distributions in Kirkland, Federal Way, and Seattle, you can register to pick yours up on BHT’s site, or ask for it to be mailed to you for a small shipping fee.
This is happening thanks to a monumental level of coordination with dozens of chambers of commerce and businesses around the region, with the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, OneRedmond, and Southside Seattle Chamber of Commerce and 25 other organizations leading the way. "It's truly been a regional effort," Childs said.
It also wouldn’t be possible without a small army of volunteers—165 people and climbing so far.
“[The volunteers] have been everything from council members and mayors in different cities to staff at member companies,” Childs says. Partner organizations include Amazon, which provided hundreds of hours of help, and the Ballard Alliance (formerly the Chamber of Commerce), which helped pack 1,400 kits last week.
Volunteers are still needed to help pack and distribute the kits, so if you’re in the mood to lend a hand, sign up here.
Hold on, though. Doing unpaid volunteer work for businesses? That’s the sort of thing that, in normal times, would seem a little exploitative. But normal times don’t exist anymore, and probably won’t for a long time. And nobody wins when local mom & pops have to stay boarded-up because they can’t safely reopen; or when they go out of business for good; or when they re-open prematurely and can’t guarantee anyone’s safety.
These kits are going to restaurants, accountants, manufacturers—virtually every kind of business you can imagine, and all of them are vital sources of income for owners and employees at a time when unemployment benefits will soon run out.
“A lot of the companies that are coming are relying on these kits to reopen,” Childs says. “This is allowing them to ensure they have masks for customers who come in without them, or ensure they have enough supply to ensure their employees have clean masks every day.”
Virtually every small business owner I’ve spoken to since the start of quarantine has said that the support available from government sources—local, state, and federal—is nowhere near what they need to stay in businesses. When I take a walk through any business district right now, the amount of plywood that I still see over windows is pretty chilling.
So with our great country lacking the sort of basic safety nets that are a fact of life in more developed nations, we’re going to have to get creative and generous to keep the disasters from piling up. And if a box of masks and hand sanitizer can make the difference between a family-owned shop staying open or going under, well, let’s roll up our sleeves and chip in wherever we can.