The residents of Hattiesburg have pulled together for their neighbors time and again in the face of disaster, whether that be Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the several tornadoes that have passed through the area in recent years.
That’s proven true again this year during the current COVID-19 pandemic, as approximately 1,200 masks were donated at a recent City of Hattiesburg mask drive-through and drop-off event to be donated to help assist health care workers, first responders and a general need for personal protective equipment.
The drive, which was held March 26-28 at Jackie Dole Sherrill Community Center - and manned by chief communications officer Samantha McCain and assistant to the mayor Betsy Mercier - allowed donors to drop off the masks without getting out of their vehicles, adhering to social distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
“I think any time Hattiesburg is up against a disaster of sorts, our community members do what they do best, and they kind of fill gaps where there are needs,” McCain said. “So in this situation, we had a lot of folks reach out about where they could donate masks.
“So we felt like if we spent three dedicated days taking any donations that folks wanted to drop off, they could do so in a safe environment where they didn’t have to get out of their vehicles. And being the mediator between the community and those in our health care industry - across Merit Health Wesley, Forrest General Hospital, Hattiesburg Clinic and (Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative) - (this) seemed like a need that we could adequately step up to the plate and fill.”
Because event organizers didn’t know what kind of turnout to expect, the event was planned for three days to help with the traffic flow coming down Front Street.
“We knew that if we put it in a two-hour time crunch, we might get too many people crowding, and that kind of defeated the purpose,” McCain said. “But they slowly trickled in, probably one or two deliveries every half hour, which we felt like was super manageable. It was also a good example of why Hattiesburg residents are as great as they are.”
City officials worked with the medical community to determine the need for masks - which were a variety of N95 and homemade masks.
The remainder of the masks collected were given to the police and fire departments.