Extension helps distribute KN95 masks, hand sanitizer to Oregon's agricultural and farmworker communities

CORVALLIS, Ore.  – The vehicles arrived early and often, lining up – in some cases for several blocks – to receive free KN95 masks and Oregon-made hand sanitizer to Oregon’s agricultural and farmworker communities.

On May 27-28, at 18 distribution sites across the state, Oregon State University Extension Service employees worked side by side with the Oregon Army National Guard and Oregon Department of Agriculture to sort, load and hand out personal protective equipment earmarked for agricultural producers and farmworkers to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The initiative – part of Oregon’s $30 million investment to secure the state’s food supply chain and protect essential agricultural workers – resulted in the distribution of 915,000 KN95 masks and 5,000 gallons of hand sanitizer in 18 counties. It was a collaborative effort of OSU Extension, the Guard, the Department of Agriculture and Oregon's Office of Emergency Management.

“OSU Extension was proud to partner in this phenomenal effort,” said Anita Azarenko, interim vice provost for OSU's Division of Extension and Engagement. “Because Extension is deeply embedded in our communities, we were uniquely positioned to help distribute material that is crucial for keeping those on the frontlines of the pandemic safe and able to produce food for Oregon’s families.”

In Oregon City, Clackamas County Extension and its partners supported 150 farm owners/labor contractors with over 70,000 KN95 masks and 80 cases, or 1,666 24-ounce bottles, of hand sanitizer. About 100 people lined up during the first 90 minutes of the event. OSU Extension took the remaining supplies to Clackamas County's emergency operation center for the county to continue distribution to those unable to attend on the one day event.

“It’s been difficult for agricultural producers, who like all of us are trying to adjust to the ‘new normal,’” said Leah Sundquist, county liaison and office manager for Clackamas County Extension. "This is a good opportunity that will help them.”

In Salem, Marion County Extension employees worked in the 80-degree heat to load boxes of masks and hand sanitizer into cars and on to trucks at the Oregon State Fairgrounds.

“A lot of people came together to say yes, we can do this,” said Mark Chien, local liaison administrative office manager for Marion County Extension. “Similar to the Guard, OSU Extension is represented in every county in Oregon. When we get partners like these together, it makes for excellent teamwork.”

Thirty miles south on Interstate 5, vehicles started arriving at the Linn County Extension office more than hour before the distribution was to start. Michele Webster, office manager and Linn County local liaison, said the project was relayed to farmers through the OSU Extension social network and included distribution for farmers in neighboring Benton County.

Down in Jackson County, Richard Roseberg, director of the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center (SOREC), said a long line of vehicles formed outside SOERC in Central Point 30 minutes before the distribution was scheduled to start.

“We had a line up around the building, almost out to the road,” Roseberg said.

The SOREC Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station employees worked all day as the temperature reached 96 degrees.

At all of the distribution sites, Extension staff and volunteers also distributed a high-speed hand-washing poster designed by Extension Family and Community Health faculty to illustrate how groups of 20-30 people wash their hands properly in five minutes or less. 

Some sites also handed out free cookbooks from Food Hero, an Extension social marketing campaign that empowers families to make food choices that are healthy, fun and tasty.

Determining distribution sites throughout the state also involved significant collaboration from the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Emergency Management, Oregon State Fairgrounds, and various other county fairgrounds.

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