Fighting Coronavirus by Assembling Face Masks
Saluting the men and women of the trucking industry who kept America's essential goods flowing during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the early days of the pandemic, personal protective equipment was hard to come by. So Kevin Cooper and his wife, Kimberly, learned how to sew masks after acquiring free kits from JoAnn Fabrics. But they then spent about $200 more to make more masks, and didn't ask for donations in return. Watch a video interview with Cooper here.
Professional truck driver Kevin Cooper found a unique way to help fellow drivers and other frontline workers in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
At a time when many were struggling to find personal protective equipment, he and his wife, Kimberly, took matters into their own hands by making protective face masks and handing them out for free to people who needed them.
“We didn’t ask for any donations,” Cooper told Transport Topics. “We didn’t ask for any of the costs back. We just did what God says we’re supposed to do and helped others. That’s what you’re supposed to do, especially in a time like this when you have two options. You can become selfish and be in it for yourself, or you can jump in and help people. We’re all in this together fighting this virus.”
Cooper, 45, was born and raised in Santa Rosa, Calif.
He has worked as a driver in various jobs since obtaining his commercial driver license in 2006.
Cooper eventually settled into his current role at driver staffing firm Centerline Drivers, which brought him in as part of its mobile team in June 2018.
Since then, the company has sent him on numerous assignments with his wife by his side. They often stay in hotels, but when he is not on a work assignment, they reside in Columbia, S.C.
Centerline Drivers has 36 local branches with headquarters in Santa Ana, Calif. The company had 3,572 drivers as of 2019.
Cooper and his wife were in West Virginia when the pandemic hit. (Centerline Drivers)
Cooper is currently driving for Centerline client LB&B Associates, a facilities management and logistics company.
When the pandemic began to take hold in the United States, Cooper and his wife were staying at a hotel while he was on assignment distributing liquor throughout West Virginia.
They noticed the few hotel workers there were having trouble getting protective equipment.
“We got here in the middle of March,” Cooper said. “There were three people here total for probably about a month and a half. The workers behind the counter did not have protective face masks, and neither did we. You couldn’t get them anywhere. You couldn’t get them online. It was about a three- to five-month wait on Amazon.”
But when JoAnn Fabrics craft stores in the area started advertising free, do-it-yourself mask assembly kits, Cooper and his wife decided to step up and help.
“They looked around and saw that people were kind of afraid. People in the area were scared,” Centerline Drivers Service Director Sheila Castaneda told TT. “COVID was hitting hard, and people didn’t even know where it was headed yet at that point. Kevin decided since it was so hard to find masks that he and his wife, Kim, were going to make some masks themselves.”
Cooper recalled how they started off with the free mask-making kits. They included fabric, sewing supplies and pellon filters. He then spent a couple of hundred dollars on more materials to make more masks.
Face masks were hard to find in March, so Cooper and his wife started making them. (Centerline Drivers)
They also watched online tutorials and borrowed a sewing machine from the hotel manager’s daughter to get started.
“We brought them home and worked on the free ones they gave us first,” Cooper said. “We handed them to the front desk staff first. Then we brought them down to my contractor, which is LB&B. They distribute liquor through the whole state of West Virginia.”
The Coopers started by making 23 masks over the first nine days starting March 20. Then colleagues at LB&B helped them distribute the masks to the other drivers and warehouse workers.
“At that point, two things happened,” Cooper said. “No. 1 is we couldn’t get the pellon material anymore. JoAnn Fabrics was wiped out. People were starting to catch on, and they were making masks at their houses themselves, which is a great thing. We couldn’t order them online, so we got to 37 and had to stop. The second thing that happened was all of a sudden, even 7-Eleven was selling masks.”
Cooper concluded his mask-making experience after it became clear that people were now able to get them for themselves. But he recalls how happy and relieved he made people when that wasn’t the case.
He attributes his helpful nature to the lessons instilled in him from his mother while growing up.
“I always find myself trying to help somebody,” Cooper said. “The thing my mom taught me was if you walk by a piece of trash, pick it up and throw it away even if it’s not yours.”
Cooper added that by the end, they had been making masks for about 14 days. The 37 masks they assembled included six designed specifically for children that they figured out how to make upon request.
The good deed has resonated with Cooper’s industry colleagues.
“Our customer is extremely appreciative,” Castaneda said. “They think very highly of him. I can’t speak personally about people in the neighborhood but I can say that the drivers, and our customer are extremely appreciative. It’s just so heartwarming that a driver would step up and do this in our country’s time of need.”