PORT TOWNSEND — It’s both a practice exercise and a response to an ongoing emergency: distribution of some 4,500 N95 masks to Jefferson County households.
NPREP is the neighborhood preparedness action group of Local 20/20, the nonprofit organization devoted to community resiliency. And this past Saturday, its volunteers fanned out across the county’s streets and towns, handing out the free face masks to anybody who wanted them.
“The neighborhood leads are doing door-to-door delivery,” said Elizabeth Bindschadler, an NPREP member who helped coordinate the distribution on Saturday. In late January, the group sent out a message to its email list, which includes people in dozens of neighborhoods.
NPREP has members in Port Townsend, Chimacum, Marrowstone Island, Port Ludlow and Quilcene, Bindschadler said. Hundreds of them said yes to the masks.
Working with the county Department of Emergency Management, which received the masks via the state, NPREP set up a community point of distribution — a CPOD — at Blue Heron Middle School in Port Townsend. Bindschadler and her fellow organizers spent Saturday morning assembling bags full of masks, and then handed them out to the neighborhood leads from noon till 2 p.m.
Those volunteers then headed back to give packages of masks to their neighbors — in about 1,200 households.
Bindschadler acknowledged that free masks also have become available recently at grocery stores and pharmacies, in the Biden Administration’s distribution of some 400 million of them.
“Some neighborhood residents may be elderly or less mobile, and they may not want to trot out to the drugstore to pick up those masks, even though they’re free,” Bindschadler said.
NPREP neighborhood sizes vary widely across the county, she added. Her own Quilcene neighborhood has about 40 houses in it, but only 20 occupied full time. The NPREP lead volunteers, however, are alike in their desire to connect with their fellow residents. They were also an energized bunch, poised to complete the mask project by the end of the day.
“We’re using this as an exercise,” Bindschadler said.
In a disaster, NPREP could set up a CPOD in East Jefferson County and hand out bottled water, for example. Neighborhood leads could come and pick up a supply for their block or for several blocks.
“We’re trying to get neighborhoods together to organize and plan ahead the same way you do for your own house,” she said.
“If you come together as a neighborhood, you’re likely to be more safe and more comfortable” when disaster strikes.
Department of Emergency Management spokesperson Keppie Keplinger agreed that Saturday’s effort aligns with her agency’s mission. The mask distribution presented a good opportunity, she said, for a preparedness exercise and a community distribution center.
Anyone in East Jefferson County can join NPREP, Bindschadler noted, adding Local 20/20 provides training for people who want to become neighborhood leads and maintains a newsletter for participants.
The group can be reached at [email protected], while information can be found at L2020.org under Action Groups and then Emergency Preparedness.
“We’d love to see the whole county blanketed” with prepared neighborhoods, Bindschadler said.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]