With some New Hampshire malls scheduled to reopen on Monday, efforts are being made to ensure that shoppers will have face masks available if they wish to use them in stores.
The United Way of Greater Nashua is organizing a group of volunteers to distribute masks to shoppers at the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua and the Merrimack Premium Outlets. “The malls are not requiring people to wear masks to shop there,” said Mike Apfelberg, president of the United Way of Greater Nashua. “However, we want to make sure that people have ample opportunity to keep safe.”
Apfelberg spoke with a representative from Simon Malls, which also owns The Mall at Rockingham Park in Salem, and learned that the company had masks available if shoppers requested them.
Simon Malls is providing a couple thousand masks to be distributed, as well as handmade masks that are being donated from three local sewing groups in Merrimack, Bedford and Nashua.
“Free masks and sanitizing wipe packets will be available to shoppers at designated entrances or at the mall office,” the company states on its website. Apfelberg said he reached out to United Way staff and asked them to find a large group of volunteers who would be willing to stand at the mall entrances and distribute the face masks to customers who wanted them.
Within 24 hours, about 60 volunteers had signed up for shifts at the Nashua and Merrimack shopping centers. On Sunday
night, there were still shifts available every day but Wednesday.
“We have about half of the volunteers we need for this project,” Sarah Ceasar, director of volunteer and community engagement with United Way of Greater Nashua, said on Friday. “People are really excited about this and they really want to help.”
Apfelberg ordered 10,000 masks from a supplier in New York at a cost of about $7,000. The United Way, which created a COVID-19 community relief fund several weeks ago, is paying for the masks.
“We are a border town, and part of our mission is public health. While Nashua and southern New Hampshire have remained relatively COVID-19 free, we are not by any means a hot spot at this point, while just to the south of us in Lawrence and Lowell (Mass.), there are major hot spots of coronavirus outbreaks,” Apfelberg said.
The masks will be distributed in shifts from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday at Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua and the Merrimack Premium Outlets over the next two weeks. Anyone interested in volunteering may sign up at http://www.volunteergreaternashua.org
This article was originally published in The Union Leader by Kimberly Houghton