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In our opinion: The quiet power of 5 million masks and the volunteers who make them

SnugZ USA employees fabricate polypropylene mask kits at the company’s manufacturing facility in West Jordan on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. The company is the manufacturer for the ProjectProtect effort to make 5 million masks in five weeks, The masks are being fabricated at SnugZ USA in West Jordan and will be sewed by volunteers.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Just a month ago long lines wrapped around stores for toilet paper and soap. But on Tuesday, the lines that formed were not made of shoppers, but of volunteers picking up sewing kits.

Drive-thru lines at Deseret Industries throughout Utah handed out 10,000 sewing kits to make masks for health care workers in the state as a part of ProjectProtect. After the effort was announced, the website was overrun. Every available kit was spoken for within 62 hours.

This week’s kits should result in 1 million masks that the creators will return on Saturday. Next week, another 10,000 will go out. In five weeks, 5 million masks will have been made for Utah’s health care workers — entirely by volunteers.

Ten thousand kits go in. One million masks come out. It’s a potent example of the exponential power of volunteerism. Just one selfless act can benefit scores of those in need.

Perhaps onlookers think the eagerness to grab hold of a sewing kit perplexing, but Utahns are familiar with the impact acts of service can have. The state’s nonprofit and volunteer organizations are among the most prominent parts of its community.

And there hasn’t been a shortage of volunteering fortitude since life flipped upside down last month. The group Neighbors Helping Neighbors was organized in March to help elderly or immunocompromised Utahns receive grocery orders, and has received a steady stream of do-gooders ready to help, even raising money for those who can’t afford certain items.

Deseret News photographers captured the story of volunteers holding a parade outside a senior living center to help lift residents’ spirits.

And we have received dozens of letters from folks in the community who either witnessed or participated in quiet acts of service to alleviate the burden of another.

The global spread of the coronavirus has brought many face to face with fear, loss and anxiety. Yet, instead of succumbing to the temptation to hunker down or go off the grid until the wave has passed, the pandemic has rekindled some of the best parts of humanity.

Utah’s orientation toward service is again an example to the nation. The relatively low number of deaths attributed to the coronavirus is encouraging, and state leaders acknowledge residents have helped shape that outcome. Individuals throughout the state volunteered their 3D printers to make personal protective equipment for health care workers, and several large donations of masks have helped avoid tragedy. The list could go on.

Indeed, the power of community is rooted in strong principles of service and giving.

We thank the frontline workers who face this pandemic every day. We also recognize the thousands of Utahns in the background who have given their time, resources and skills to fight the effects of the virus in any way they can. Whether it’s picking up a sewing kit, donating food to hospital workers or putting on a drive-by birthday party, it is incredible to behold what humanity is capable of when people unite.

Even as the coronavirus continues to dominate thoughts, know that even a seemingly small act helps fight the battle.