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Good Works! La Cañada mom organizes massive N95 mask donation

La Cañada resident Vanessa Ho organized an effort to repair thousands of N95 masks so they could be used to protect healthcare workers tending to coronavirus patients.
La Cañada resident Vanessa Ho organized an effort to repair thousands of N95 masks so they could be used to protect healthcare workers tending to coronavirus patients.
(Courtesy of Vanessa Ho)

“There was definitely a time when I thought, what did I just get myself into?”

Thankfully, that feeling didn’t last long for Vanessa Ho. A dentist and mom of two elementary-aged children (with a baby on the way), Ho has quickly become famous for mobilizing volunteers to repair and distribute 21,000 N95 masks to donate to frontline doctors and other healthcare workers at local hospitals and other medical facilities.

Ho’s efforts began in late March, when she started researching types of mask efficiency and dusted off her sewing machine to create facial protections for family and friends. After a few Facebook posts featuring her newfound craft, Dr. Evelyn Lo — a friend and ER doctor at Glendale Adventist — reached out.

“Evelyn texted me that she had an opportunity to get N95 masks from a disaster relief pile in Houston, Texas [via nonprofit Somebody Cares], and that we could get them here in California if we were able to pay for shipping costs … I said, ‘Let’s order 10,000!’”

The catch? Elastics on the masks would need to be replaced because storage conditions had weakened the bands of otherwise brand-new, effective masks. Ho bought $700 of new elastics and went to work replacing the old bands.

The first batch of masks was transported to California thanks to private donors. Ho soon launched a GoFundMe page to cover shipping costs for 10,000 more masks.

Within 24 hours, the $1,300 needed to ship them was raised; 6,000 masks soon arrived at Ho’s La Cañada home, 5,000 went to Sacramento, 1,000 went to Riverside. Her contacts in each location would repair and distribute in each region.

Facing stacks of boxes, Ho sought local help via social media and nearly 100 parents, Scouting troops and neighbors of all ages responded. She created a Facebook group dedicated to sharing how-to video tutorials for sewing new elastics and instructions for avoiding mask contamination.

Scheduled, contactless pickups and drop-offs happened via the family’s front porch — one box for picking up masks that need new elastics, one box for dropping off masks with new elastics attached.

Young La Cañada Flintridge residents volunteer their time to prepare masks needed by healthcare workers during the coronavirus epidemic.
Young La Cañada Flintridge residents volunteer their time to prepare masks needed by healthcare workers during the coronavirus epidemic.
(Courtesy of Vanessa Ho)

“I have been utterly amazed by the response,” Ho said. “There are so many kind people in our city, and I feel really proud to be a part of this community.”

It’s been a family effort with her husband (La Cañada dentist Dr. Brandon Ho) and children, Kaitlyn, 9 and 11-year-old Caden, who have counted, cut and sorted elastics.

“We try to teach our kids that God gave them different gifts to bless other people with — that life isn’t about receiving, but giving,” Vanessa Ho said.

Thanks to what’s now considered her “largest spontaneous project ever,” 6,000 repaired masks are being distributed to medical centers in Riverside, El Monte, on L.A.'s skid row and at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.

N95 masks are boxed and ready for delivery to USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.
N95 masks are boxed and ready for delivery to USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.
(Courtesy of Vanessa Ho)

One recipient asked if they could Venmo money to thank the volunteers, but Ho demurred.

“Just knowing they are going to people who are risking their lives to save others and fight this pandemic, that is enough thanks for us,” she said.


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