Free Masks for Grocery Store Essential Workers and Vulnerable Communities

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas gives a Ralphs supermarket cashier a gift bag containing free masks. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

With Los Angeles County registering about 225,000 cases of COVID-19 to date, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas handed out free masks to some of the essential workers on the frontlines of this pandemic – grocery workers – and the low-income communities of color they serve.

“Grocery store essential workers continue to be unsung heroes in this pandemic, risking their health every time they go to work to make sure we have food on the table,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said during a mask giveaway at the Ralphs supermarket on Obama Boulevard, which serves the Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw and West Adams neighborhoods in South LA. “With these free masks, we are letting them know that they are not forgotten heroes, and we are committed to making sure they have the ability to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their communities.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas gives a gift bag with free masks to a Ralphs worker. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

“Wearing a mask is key to combatting COVID-19, flattening the curve, and safely reopening Los Angeles County,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “Free masks mean people in low-income communities of color don’t have to choose between taking precautions against the pandemic, or buying groceries and other necessities.”

“It’s incredible,” Ralphs store director Xavier Hendricks said. “Not only are we providing the community with some masks, we’re providing our essential workers – Ralphs employees – with basic tools to keep everyone safe. The fact that Ralphs is part of the community and we’re doing this together is just a perfect example of how community and business are making everyone safe and providing an essential service.”

Over the last several weeks, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has been working with Operation USA, Servicon and Moldex to distribute 150,000 masks throughout the County’s Second District. This is the latest installment: 20,000 masks specifically for grocery workers and residents of the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw and West Adams neighborhoods, which have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas distributed gift bags with free masks to grocery store customers at Ralphs supermarket in South LA. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

According to the County Department of Public Health, Baldwin Hills has 537 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 26 deaths to date, while Crenshaw has 264 cases and three deaths. Nearby West Adams has seen 768 cases and 34 deaths. All are predominantly low-income Black and Latinx neighborhoods.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas is partnering with the environmental nonprofit Mujeres de la Tierra, and its mascot el demonio de basura, to distribute 20,000 masks to vulnerable communities in South Los Angeles and remind residents how to dispose of used masks without littering. “Mujeres de la Tierra is proud to participate with Supervisor Mark Ridey-Thomas in this vital community mask distribution,” said its President and CEO Irma Muñoz. “Wearing a mask saves lives, including our own.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added, “While masks are critical protection for us, we can’t forget to protect our environment as we use them.”

Operation USA was the first American group that went back into Vietnam after the war to provide airlifts of medical aid. As a reciprocal gesture for the aid they received over 40 years ago, the Vietnamese have sent over 2 million masks to Operation USA, 150,000 of which are being distributed in Los Angeles County’s Second District. Servicon, an environmental services company that disinfects hospitals and clinics, has been assisting Operation USA with mask distribution.

Mujeres de la Tierra works with residents of South and East Los Angeles on community development and environmental stewardship. Concerned about how many disposable masks have become litter during the pandemic, it brought along its mascot, el demonio de basura, to the mask giveaway to show people how to dispose of used masks without posing a health or environmental hazard.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has partnered with La Mujeres de la Tierra to distribute 20,000 masks to vulnerable communities in South Los Angeles and remind residents how to dispose of used masks without littering. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors