Delivering 5.5 Million Facemasks to Communities.

Million Mask Challenge Tour (October 2020 – March 2021)

District 7980 has engaged extensively in service projects throughout its history. This year, the District will partner up with its neighboring District 7890 in Northern Connecticut and Western Massachusetts to deliver a District Day of Service throughout the entire State of Connecticut.

One of the most profound service projects undertaken by the District was last year was the Million Mask Challenge Tour, which delivered over 5 million PPE face masks to those in need over a six-month period. The following tells the story of this important project.

Total PPE Face Masks Distributed

District 7980’s Million Mask Challenge Tour Displays Power of Rotary Network

In the early morning of 29 September, a cargo ship carrying 800,000 face masks arrived at the Port of Boston. Over the course of the following 14 days, those masks were delivered to first responders, healthcare providers, and frontline workers in cities, towns, and villages across New England.

This is a story of service and leadership. It’s a story of how our District and Zone responded to a crisis, rallied its resources, put boots-on-the-ground to bring disparate and far-flung communities together to spread goodwill. Most importantly, it’s a story about working together and using our collective professional backgrounds through the Rotary network to make a difference.

Our project began with Ted Rossi, a 20-year member of the Rotary Club of East Hampton, Connecticut. Rossi is president and CEO of the Rossi Group, one of the most well-known and respected leaders in the American hardwood export industry.

Frustrated by dysfunctional governmental leadership in taking control of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) acquisition and distribution, Ted turned to his team with the international logistics and the know-how to leverage their contacts and focus on sourcing masks for the region. Initial success brought more than eight million masks to the states of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.

It became evident there was a large demand for face masks downstream. Jack turned to his Rotary connections to leverage his idea to get even better results. He reached out to Jack Solomon, our district governor at the time, a fellow member of the East Hampton club. Ted needed Jack to get the masks to Rotarians for distribution, and Jack needed someone to “project manage” the tour and run logistics from an event and media standpoint.

That’s where I came in, as a global sales, marketing and communications professional and chair of our District’s Public Image and Communications Committee. I coordinated with our district communications team and managed all the logistics for our tour through seven Rotary districts.

Our District 7980 fund-raising efforts brought in $500,000 during the first three months of the pandemic that we used to support those impacted by COVID-19. The Rossi Foundation donated an additional 200,000 masks to the cause that were distributed to clubs across Connecticut.

During the summer of 2020, Ted saw the challenge throughout the region and District 7980 expanded its program, initiating the delivery of 1 million face masks throughout New England into what we called the Million Mask Challenge Tour. The inaugural 500-mile Tour culminated in the total delivery of 1 million masks to 10 drop off points where 9 Rotary Districts held full media events in their region and then rallied tens of thousands of Rotarians during the heart of the pandemic to deliver the masks to first-responders, essential worked and organizations in need.

The “Challenge” we imposed as a part of the Million Mask Challenge Tour was an important component of the project. We challenged each club to guarantee that each and every PPE received was delivered to first-responders and essential workers. We asked Rotary Zones and Districts across the country to join our cause by leveraging their own resources to deliver protection and safety to essential workers. And we challenged our Rotary corporate partners, NGOs, and the business community, whom we connect with every day, to step up and join us in this unprecedented spirit of giving back.

The first week of October 2020, a 26-foot truck, emblazoned on all sides with the Million Mask Challenge Tour message, traveled over 500 miles through ten cities across the region. At each of distribution point, the host district held a major Media and Distribution Event to share our story.

The media event embraced first responders, essential workers, and those receiving the PPE. A 20-minute media presentation brought community leaders (governors, mayors, on-air talent, and community advocates) together to participate in distributing masks to Rotarians and those businesses in need.

Ted explained his motivations for this project.

“The state was not able to deliver to smaller community organizations and nursing homes, so I realized this is perfect for Rotary. We could facilitate the supply of masks that Rotary clubs can take and distribute in small lots within their communities. What started out as a small project snowballed into something really big.”

This project reinforces how Rotary uses its professional backgrounds, diverse perspectives, and global connections to change the world for the better. We were able to secure extensive media exposure for Rotary, with the help of iHeart media. Our project caught the interest of Tyler Saari, an independent filmmaker in Connecticut, who owns his own production company Shutter Media, to make a documentary of the tour.

As the pandemic continued its onslaught through the fall of 2020, the impact of our face mask distribution and the continued need became quite evident. Ted had the resources, and in early January 2021, our District 7980 team embarked on the second wave – The Million Mask Challenge Tour [Take 2].

During the week of 11 January, the project continued with the delivery of 2 million face masks in a week-long tour that included 14 stops and extended to new distribution points in Manhattan (District 7230), Long Island (District 7255), and Hudson Valley (District 7210). The delivery to the original nine northern New England Rotary Districts provided a supplement of masks to support the ongoing need in their regions, while the distribution to the three new participating Rotary Districts provided a much-needed infusion of support to their areas. And, there were 5 new media events that were held in their areas, including New York stops in Hicksville, White Plains, Fishkill, Harlem, and Staten Island.

The impact was immediate in the New York region with major press and media throughout the State, including a major news story on ABC7 Eyewitness News.

The Million Mask Challenge Tour [Take 2] initiative was an extreme success. It awakened a Rotary community in the heart of the pandemic to leave the safety of their homes and do what Rotarians instinctively do — to dive feet first into community service support and save lives. The project opened untold stories of Rotarians reaching out to those in need and providing services that made a deep impact in their communities throughout the Northeast.

But the project was not yet complete. As the pandemic waned on, Ted and the core project committee made plans for a final distribution of another 2.5 Million masks. This time the Million Mask Challenge Tour [Take 3] initiative would have all Rotary Districts convene at a major distribution point to come together for the very first time, retrieve additional face masks and together commemorate the 6-month project.

All told, the Million Mask Challenge Tour delivered 5.5 million face masks to first responders, essential workers, and community organizations in need. The media embraced the project and told the story in hundreds of media markets throughout the Northeast generating millions of public image impressions that continue to reveal themselves to this day.