Brandon Eley, founder and president of 2BigFeet, surprised Troup County officials and first responders Tuesday with a donation of KN95 masks. The move comes as protective KN95 masks are growing both in scarcity and in price—leaving some on the front lines defenseless.
Recognizing this, Eley began to look for a supplier of KN95 masks to give back both to his customers and to the community.
“We work with fifty different manufacturers and vendors,” he said, speaking of his shoe retail website 2BigFeet. The store specializes in size 14+ shoes—including those typically worn on-duty by first responders. Both of these factors played a role in Eley’s donation.
Leveraging his supply-chain connections, Eley was able to find a supplier who agreed to ship 1000 KN95 masks. But, he said, those masks never came.
“We got burnt the first time,” he said of the situation. The predicament underscores the difficulty in currently finding KN95 masks—especially for those who are looking to buy in bulk. The masks remain in high demand for being especially-protective against viruses; it’s this property that has made them a hot commodity during the current pandemic.
“Unlike other masks that only help protect someone from spreading the virus to other people,” Eley said, “KN95 masks actually help protect the one wearing it from getting the virus from others.”
It’s for this reason that Eley did not give up on his hunt to find KN95 masks for his customers and first responders. Despite never receiving his first order of masks, Eley continued to contact different suppliers until he found another currently distributing KN95 masks.
Eley then placed a tentative order of 1000 masks and waited to see if they would arrive. They did. It was then that the local business owner decided to donate over a quarter of the shipment to local officials and those working on the front lines.
From his friends working in the Sheriff’s Office and on the LaGrange Police force, Eley understood that not everyone has been out of work since statewide lockdowns sent millions of Georgian workers home.
“Deputies, officers, and other first responders haven’t had a day off,” he said, adding that they often work in close contact with one another and with people in the community.
“Our goal is to get them in the hands of people who need them most,” he said, stating that a total of 260 masks were donated this week. To do this, Eley also donated masks to the Troup County government to better protect security guards and other workers, as well as those volunteering in the upcoming election.
Tuesday’s donation marks only the first effort of Eley and 2BigFeet to give back to the local community. With another shipment of KN95 masks on the way, he’s already got plans to donate more to those in need around the county.
In doing so, Eley has, in some ways, cut through the red tape that would likely prevent government agencies from acquiring such masks themselves—at least in a timely manner. The 2BigFeet founder noted that many government agencies must follow strict purchasing and procurement guidelines that can delay the purchasing of needed equipment from new vendors.
Eley’s donation has expedited the process. “I called and asked them if they were allowed to accept donations,” he said. “They said they could.”
To help cover the cost of donations, 2BigFeet is currently offering masks to their customers at a minimal markup as well. It’s a move that Eley said doesn’t fully cover costs, but one that he’s happy to make.
“We know that many of our customers are first responders,” he said, highlighting his company’s effort to serve those on the front lines.
For Eley, the donations are a way of doing his part to give back to the community—and according to him, other businesses have been making efforts to help out, as well.
“I was inspired by other people who are doing their part,” he said. Eley hopes that more businesses, citizens, and leaders will also join the current effort to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re going through a difficult and unprecedented time,” he said. “But if we all do our part and do what we can—if everyone does a little bit—we can get through it.”
The author of this article can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.