Monday, May 11, 2020 / by Ken Couture
It was the moment Samantha Gass had been dreading all day, frequently looking at her office clock as 12 p.m. March 18 quickly became a reality.
That’s when Gov. Steve Sisolak’s closure of the state’s nonessential businesses out of coronavirus concerns would begin, meaning Gass’ North Las Vegas interior design company would be temporarily shuttered.
At 12:01 p.m., she sat down in the office, scared and not knowing what was happening next. “It felt helpless,” Gass said. “We wanted to do something to be able participate because we watch the news and see everything that’s going on.
“So really quickly we pivoted.”
When the order went into effect seven weeks ago, there was a shortage of protective masks nationally needed to fight the pandemic. So, Gass briefly looked around at her interior furnishing company and had an idea.
Gass whipped up a prototype mask and overnighted it to her aunt, a nurse in Florida, who offered some tweaks. The following day, Decor 8 Interiors turned into Masks by Decor 8.
Decor 8 sells two-packs of nonsurgical-grade washable cloth masks for $20, which is the material and labor costs of four masks — two for the buyer, and two to be donated. Every sold mask helps fund one for a front-line worker fighting the pandemic. So far, the company has given away about 7,000 masks, free of charge, Gass said.
Donations have been sent to all 50 states and Canada, as well as military bases in Germany, Japan and the USNS Mercy, a Navy hospital ship. Requests for free masks can be made on the website, and Gass said she had more than 36,000 applicants.
The company has received more than five times the number of requests than it has been able to fulfill, making the lead time for free masks nine weeks. Decor is sending out 350 to 400 free masks per day, which is as fast as the small team can go.
“I think in the 20 years that Decor 8 has been in Las Vegas, we’ve had 2,000 customers total. And now we have a list of 36,000, it’s just the scale is a little mind-blowing,” Gass said. “We’re doing the best that we can, but yeah, it’s a lot.”
The positive, though, is that the increased demand has led to an increased need for work. In a time when many companies are facing layoffs and furloughs, Decor 8 has doubled its workforce, from 10 to 20 employees with even more volunteers.
Many of those volunteers come from Rancho High School, where students in the school’s medical magnet program have partnered with the business to obtain hours needed to fulfill graduation requirements. Jennifer Molina, whose father, Jaime Molina, is a longtime Decor 8 employee, coordinates the effort and has been able to bring many of her classmates to eagerly help.
“It’s humbling to see how grateful people are to receive the masks,” she said. “I kind of feel selfish because I get to see a lot of my classmates I wouldn’t have otherwise. … I feel really grateful to see them one last time.”
The company’s website is full of testimonials from appreciative patrons and recipients of the free masks. Even though the masks don’t meet the requirements for health care workers, some said they wear them in addition to N95 masks for comfort, or wear them while not on the clock.
Gass doesn’t know when Masks by Decor 8 will return to Decor 8 Interiors. That time will come once Nevada starts to reopen. She’s happy they were able to help during a time of need.
“It feels great, but I also get really emotional because I read the beautiful messages that we get from people, and it’s very moving,” Gass said. “What we used to do is important too, but this just feels monumentally more important and useful, and that feels good to be able to do that.”
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