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Press Release

United Way & Business Leaders Launch Effort to Get Masks to Under-Resourced Schools

ALEXANDRIA, VA (Dec. 9, 2020) -- United Way Worldwide is partnering with the Business Roundtable and the CDC Foundation to launch America’s Mask Challenge, an effort to underwrite and deliver 200 million washable face masks to every student, teacher and staff member in America’s most under-resourced schools.

The goal of the Challenge is to get cloth masks to 40 million students, teachers and staff members at schools receiving federal Title I funding. That translates roughly to five washable masks per person. The challenge launches in mid-December, to expedite mask delivery for the second half of the school year.  President-elect Joe Biden vowed yesterday to safely reopen most schools in his first 100 days.

While in-person instruction varies across the country, one thing is certain: masks matter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cloth masks in schools can help slow the spread of the coronavirus, along with other mitigation strategies like hand-washing, social distancing and regular cleansing and disinfecting of frequently-touched surfaces in schools and buses.

Keeping students, teachers and staff safe requires adequate resources. A typical school district with about 3,700 students needed about $1.8 million to reopen this fall, according to some estimates. That covers cleaning, extra staff and masks. But many schools serving high percentages of children from low-wage families have had to scramble for essential supplies. Schools in high-poverty districts are historically underfunded, and low-wage families can’t make up the difference. Too often, teachers use their own resources to provide basics for America’s most vulnerable children.

America’s Mask Challenge is an opportunity to help protect the 37 million students, 4 million teachers and school staff at 56,000 schools receiving federal Title I funding, said United Way Worldwide President and CEO Brian Gallagher. “We have to do right by students, teachers and staff working hard to maintain critical learning during these difficult times,” he said. “Making sure they have reusable masks is part of our effort to help create equitable, safe and healthier communities for all.”

It’s important for America’s business community to support the Mask Challenge, said Joshua Bolten, President & CEO of the Business Roundtable. “We know that one of the most effective things we can do to protect American lives and to ensure a safe and rapid economic recovery is to wear face coverings,” Bolten said.

“Business Roundtable is proud to support this effort to protect students, teachers and staff members at America’s most under-resourced schools. Safely reopening schools is critical to protecting the mental and physical well-being of our kids. Failure to do so will widen the education gap and hurt economic livelihoods of millions of struggling families across the country.”

HanesBrands, a leading global marketer of branded everyday basic apparel, is the first company to join the Challenge. Hanes will produce the masks and coordinate with United Way on delivery. Hanes will also donate 25 million masks to the Challenge. “HanesBrands is a long-time partner of United Way, and we’re proud to support the Mask Challenge, with its goal of keeping America’s students, teachers and school staff members healthy,” said Steve Bratspies, CEO of HanesBrands.

“We know that safe classrooms are crucial to keeping kids from falling behind and helping our economy recover from this pandemic, yet many schools and students are struggling to get the supplies they need,” Bratspies said. “United Way is helping to make sure that schools across the country have the masks they need in 2021.” Hanes has followed CDC guidance to ensure that the masks meet appropriate safety standards.

Today’s announcement builds on contributions by other leading American companies. Ford Motor Company is targeting production of 100 million medical-grade masks through 2021 to donate across the U.S., with a focus on underserved communities. Jim Hackett, former CEO of Ford and Business Roundtable member, helped develop the Roundtable’s policy calling for nationwide use of masks earlier this year.

The CDC recommends that people, including teachers, staff, and students, wear masks in public settings as able when around people who live outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.  

“Right now, masks are one important way, among a variety of mitigation efforts, to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19,” said Judy Monroe, MD, President and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “And ensuring students, teachers and school workers have the masks they need is an essential element in protecting our communities. We’re pleased to join with this incredible group of corporate and nonprofit partners who are taking an important stand to Crush COVID.”

About United Way 
United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community. With global reach and local impact, we’re making life better for 48 million people annually. United Way is the world's largest privately funded nonprofit, working in 95% of U.S. communities and 40 countries and territories. That’s why we’re the mission of choice for 2.5 million volunteers, 7.7 million donors and 45,000 corporate partners. In the wake of COVID-19, we’re  helping people stay in their homes, stock their pantries, and protect their lives and livelihoods. And we’re working to build resilient, equitable communities. Learn more at Follow us: @United Way and #LiveUnited.

Media Contact

Southerlyn Reisig  
Director of Public Relations