They might be wearing masks, but this is no downtown protest.
Portland antifascist organizations and local street medics have been working hand-in-glove to produce more than 7,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. The small cadre is distributing the supplies — for free — to groups serving the homeless and other at-risk populations.
The project, started about three weeks ago, sent small batches of several hundred bottles to many organizations without a budget to purchase germ-killing supplies. Those include Sisters of the Road, Portland People's Outreach Project, Outside In, Meals on Wheels, Street Roots and Voz.
"People think of us as street medics. We are that. But we have also, and always have been, a community health organization," said Ryan with the Rosehip Medic Collective, who did not want their last name published. "Most of what we produce gets distributed the same day we make it."
The work is funded by community donations, and takes place at the Q Center, a space for the LGBTQ+ community. The whir of an immersion blender set the beat during a recent visit to the makeshift assembly line on Tuesday, April 7. A half-dozen volunteers were busy measuring glycerin and alcohol, mixing it or pouring sanitizer into squeeze bottles and individual-sized containers.
Another group behind the effort is Popular Mobilization, which usually makes the news for organizing rallies and counter-demonstrations that can draw hundreds of the black-clad protesters known as antifa.
"We have to protect ourselves, and only our community can take care of our community," said Effie Baum, a spokesperson for Pop Mob. "The state is not going to protect us."
Some of the supplies have been given to couriers, delivery drivers and even some TriMet operators who aren't provided with sanitizer by their employers. The volunteers have Lysol bottles to give out as needed as well.
.@PopMobPDX and the Rosehip Medic Collective have produced some 7,000 bottles of sanitizer for vulnerable populations in Portland to help fight COVID-19. We took a look (from a social distance) at their space at the @qcenter today: pic.twitter.com/bsvJYbXDj8— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) April 7, 2020
The groups aren't accepting any more in-person volunteers at this time in order to prevent the spread of contagion, but a GoFundMe has been set up for financial donations. Ryan said their costs per gallon of alcohol is $65 dollars, which produces about 64 bottles of individual sanitizer.
"Our city and county already fail unhoused people all of the time when there's not a pandemic," said Baum. "This at least offers them some protection."
A spokesman for the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services flatly disputed that notion, saying government workers have distributed some 27,044 two-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer to the unhoused during the pandemic, as well as many other supplies.
"Beyond spreading out our shelters and creating new motel programs for people with symptoms, adding bathrooms, and creating new outdoor emergency shelters, we've invested in the gear our outreach teams need to help thousands of people manage through this crisis," said the spokesman, Denis Theriault.
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