helping hands

To Fight Mask Shortage, Motorcycle Fleet Rolls Donations to Doctors

Ryan Snelson, left, from the New York chapter of Masks for Docs makes a run to deliver supplies in Manhattan with another volunteer, March 21, 2020.
Ryan Snelson, left, from the New York chapter of Masks for Docs makes a run to deliver supplies in Manhattan with another volunteer, March 21, 2020. Photo: John Saponara

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Just days ago, Ryan Snelson was doing what many New Yorkers are these days: sitting at home and scrolling through social media, reading the latest coronavirus news.

Then, he saw a Twitter message that got him and dozens of others moving — literally.

A group called Masks for Docs said it needed volunteers to take much-needed supplies to New York City hospitals.

“I reached out and said — we have motorcycles,” he told THE CITY.

Snelson, a user-experience designer by trade, is also a longtime motorcycling enthusiast whose magazine, Motoveli, covers the New York biker community. Now, he’s mobilizing his network to connect “the people that have stuff with the people that need stuff,” he said.

He’s doing it through Masks for Docs, a group recently formed in California by designer Rachel Smith and tech-company founder Chad Loder, which gathers up personal protective equipment, or PPE, for health care workers.

They are one in an army of grassroots groups doing the same all over the United States.

Snelson is now leading the fledgling New York chapter of Masks for Docs. Its first “mission,” as he called it, was to pick up a cache of hazmat suits, N95 masks, goggles and hand sanitizer from a donor in Montauk — contacted through Loder — then disseminate them to doctors around the city.

A colleague of Snelson, Reginé Gilbert, had access to a van; she and her partner raced out to Long Island on Saturday night to get the stuff. Then, she met up with Snelson and other volunteer motorcyclists in Bedford-Stuyvesant and split up the donations. From there, bikers took them to doctors from hospitals in Manhattan and Queens.

“It’s a bunch of different people across the country coming together and saying, ‘who has masks? Who can give them?’ Doctors are short. We’re not getting the help we need,” Gilbert said. “So, we have to help each other.”

One of the recipients of that first batch of supplies was a Brooklyn doctor who brought them to the local hospital where he works. Because of the sensitive nature of the process and the situation at the facility, he didn’t want to publicize his name or the name of the hospital.

But his wife, Anjali Kumar, spoke with THE CITY, saying that he took in packages from Masks for Docs and several other organizations mobilizing to get equipment into the hands of nurses and doctors.

“He went to four different pickup sites across Manhattan and Brooklyn. … He thinks he probably got about 250 or 275 masks” plus a box of gowns and face shields, she said.

Everything went to colleagues at his hospital — where he himself is not currently working with COVID-19 patients, but may very well be “redeployed soon,” Kumar said.

‘Proud of This Work’

Since the weekend, things have been “very blurry” Snelson said. Requests for runs are coming fast and furious, and the response from motorcyclists has been overwhelming. He said that in just three days, he heard from more than 50 bikers in New York and New Jersey who are ready to ride.

“We’re really proud of this work. It’s small, but it feels really good,” he said.

Loder, the co-founder of Masks for Docs, said they’re working on a model of “autonomous local teams with local relationships and local knowledge” who are fed data from donors — vetted and organized by the national team through a donor intake form on the group’s website — and trusted to get deliveries done.

“We need the Pony Express out there, the Moto crew, to be dispatched centrally,” he said. “We literally have almost like a taxi dispatcher who works off of a spreadsheet: here’s all the people who said they have PPE in the last 24 hours.”

Reginé Gilbert sorts medical supplies after driving to Montauk and back in one night, March 21, 2020.
Reginé Gilbert sorts medical supplies after driving to Montauk and back in one night, March 21, 2020. Photo: John Saponara

When Snelson and his fellow volunteers signed on, Loder warned them it might be “super messy” and a bit disorganized to start. But that didn’t phase them, he said.

“They were like, ‘We’re going,’” he said. “And they just went and fanned out over the city and coordinated and figured it out.”

Usually, the operation deals with relatively small donations that are better suited for motorcycles, Snelson said, as opposed to bulk donations from companies or charities.

“People are going to say, I’ve got six masks. What should I do?” he said. “And we can say, great, we’ll take them to a doctor that needs them and then, that’s done.”

Of course, the crew say they are being extra careful as they make their rounds. Drop-offs are going directly to doctors, well away from hospitals, Snelson said. And he and fellow volunteers are staying physically away from the recipients and each other as they exchange supplies.

Boxes and bags are set on the ground before they’re picked up, for example, and everyone tries to maintain the six-foot rule.

“I say, let’s just pretend everybody’s infected,” he said.

People who have supplies to donate, businesses or groups who can fabricate equipment, or people who need protective gear can contact Masks for Docs through their website or via Twitter.

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