As the COVID-19 Pandemic came to a head, Rob Scott, Executive Director of Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP), knew that the essential workers and incarcerated persons in New York State Prisons were vulnerable to the spread of the virus. Scott was able to reach out to the New York State Department of Corrections to develop a plan to provide face coverings to those individuals currently incarcerated in the State’s Prison System. CPEP Academic Director, Tess Wheelwright, researched mask design and identified one that best fits the needs of the correctional environment (plain and uniform, reusable, washable, and affordable).
Through Cornell networks, she also found a trusted local manufacturer, Finger Lakes Textiles, a division of Arctic Gear, a non-profit organization that provides services and employment opportunities for people with disabilities in the Finger Lakes Region. Wheelwright worked with Suzanne Bakiewicz, Vice President of Business Development, to get the process started with their production team. “Through research and innovation, our manufacturing team has quickly developed a cost-effective face mask that we set into production immediately, said Arctic Gear’s President and CEO, Allen Connely. We wanted to help in any way we were able in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Wheelwright agreed and said, “I think we're all adopting new roles in this time, and the project of sourcing a supplier for face masks was a new one for CPEP. (!) We're glad to be giving this business to local workers -- and grateful to everyone who has supported this gesture of caring, while we can't carry out our usual work."
Arctic Gear's face mask comes with a filtration level of 5 microns, and is made from non-woven polyester and is multi-layered to improve filtration. Connely explained "Working with Cornell University and their partner Hudson Link to provide the New York State Prison System with necessary PPE exemplifies our mission. We want to continue to provide jobs and opportunities to individuals with disabilities and our community workforce but also make an impact with the products and services we provide.” Connely continued, “…this collaboration, as a whole, brings to light exactly how we, as an organization and the people we support can be vital to our communities and assist with making visions come to life. We are extremely thankful for our partnership with Cornell and Hudson Link on their project, and knowing they trust us for their manufacturing needs makes me even more grateful.”
Cornell University and Hudson Link are part of the New York Consortium for Higher Education in Prison, a coalition of providers working to bring higher education to men and women during and after incarceration. Scott explained that this was not an initiative of any single program. “Leadership from the college programs wanted to see more protective equipment for the incarcerated population. We knew that we had the resources to make an impact, so we approached NYS DOCCS, and we are grateful they agreed to team up and move quickly.”
The partnership between Arctic Gear, Cornell University, and Hudson Link is another example of regional initiatives working together at this critical time to do all we can to make our communities a safer place. The first purchase of reusable masks for the 43,000 incarcerated men and women in the state is an important step forward to help protect them through this Pandemic. For additional information regarding the Arctic Gear Mask, please contact Suzanne Bakiewicz, Vice President of Business Development at 315-835-5974 or sbakiewicz@Mozaic.org.