URI 4-H members donate reusable masks to local community groups

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-2116 |
Jesse Ruscito
URI 4-H member Jesse Ruscito of West Greenwich delivers packages of reusable masks to the drive-up food pantry at Faith Fellowship Church. (Photo by Alison Ruscito)

KINGSTON, R.I. – December 3, 2020 – Participants in the University of Rhode Island’s 4-H program are donating masks to community groups in need through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Called Project Mask Up, the program enabled more than 40 youth participating in 4-H to request up to 100 masks that they could distribute to organizations of their choice. The youth have selected such varied groups as group homes, animal shelters, food pantries, churches, Girl Scout troops and other agencies.

“I’ve heard from many families that one of the hardest parts of the pandemic is that kids feel like there’s nothing they can do and they have no control over their environment,” said Kristina Horan, 4-H program coordinator. “This gives them something useful to do and lets them make decisions about where to distribute the masks.”

The white cloth masks arrived the week before Thanksgiving in packs of five, and the 4-H members began distributing them in a non-contact way almost immediately. One pack of masks is intended to be kept and used by member families.

Horan said that Jesse Ruscito from West Greenwich provided masks to the drive-up food pantry at Faith Fellowship Church and was having them included with items provided to needy residents. Will and Jack Skaggs of Exeter gave masks to the Exeter Department of Social Services for inclusion in holiday gift baskets. And Zackary Belmont of Coventry distributed masks to state-run group homes for developmentally disabled adults.

“I just heard from the Exeter Grange, and they are extremely pleased to have received our masks because some of their members aren’t able to get out much to get their own masks,” Horan said. “That’s the kind of feedback we’ve been getting from lots of places.”

The House of Hope, a Warwick-based non-profit whose mission is to end homelessness throughout Rhode Island, was given 500 masks for its clients.

“Many people experiencing homelessness have been disconnected from public health updates or simply do not have the resources for PPE,” said Laura Jaworski, executive director of House of Hope. “We are so grateful for the generous donation of these personal use masks – they’ve gone out as quickly as they’ve come in – and help us in our efforts to keep those we serve healthy.”

The URI 4-H Program encourages local youth to provide community service to gain a sense of belonging and to spread kindness, said Horan, “and with Project Mask Up, it’s obvious that they’re spreading plenty of kindness.”