NORTH KINGSTOWN – In collaboration with Gov. Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island Commerce, the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce on Monday distributed thousands of free masks and vouchers for disinfectant solution to small businesses throughout the state.

The effort was made as businesses–which were completely or partially shutdown due to the COVID-19–begin to reopen. Raimondo announced earlier this month that the state would be entering “phase one” of reopening, which first saw retailers and then restaurants beginning to gradually open back up for business.

After receiving them from the state, chambers around the state distributed the to small businesses with 50 or fewer employees that are open or are reopening– including retailers, grocery stores, manufacturers, restaurants and service-based businesses. Businesses received eight masks per employee, or a free month’s supply, according to RI Commerce.

Following Monday’s distribution, Kristin Urbach, executive director of the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce, said the masks were given to chamber members and non-members alike, and distributed to businesses around the state.

“They were distributed to members, which are all over the state, but also to local businesses who weren’t members,” she said.

Pre-ordered masks were distributed between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m., followed by a general pickup. The distribution window even had to be extended by an hour, because of the amount of businesses who were interested in receiving free personal protective equipment (PPE).

As of Monday, the chamber had distributed 4,500 and 55 vouchers for disinfectant solution from Ocean State Job Lot. The chamber plans to distribute an additional 5,500 masks after it receives hand sanitizer from the state, which, along with the masks and vouchers, will also be distributed to small businesses.

Instead of waiting for the hand sanitizer, Urbach said the initial distribution of masks on Monday was an effort to “get a bunch of them out of the gate now,” as restaurants began offering outdoor dining this week.

The chamber even picked up the masks from the state themselves, as a way to get a head start on the distribution.

“What we wanted to do is, we just wanted to get a bunch of them out of the gate now,” Urbach said.

Urbach also said that the chamber was eager to distribute masks and disinfectant because, under the new COVID-19 guidelines, they would otherwise be a necessary added expense. After Raimondo’s announcement about the distribution last Thursday, the North Kingstown Chamber acted immediately to have the masks ready for Monday.

“This was on Thursday, so we acted very quickly,” Urbach said. “We wanted to get these to the members for free, because typically that’s an added expense.”

And with outdoor dining beginning this week, Urbach said there was a sense of urgency to help small businesses.

“We wanted to make sure we got to them as soon as that announcement was made by the governor so we could assure them that we can get you some free supplies now,” she said. “We definitely have a sense of urgency to help them.”

Urbach said that another distribution was being coordinated to provide a combination of masks, hand sanitizer and vouchers for disinfectant to small businesses.

And while just about everything has changed for businesses under the COVID-19 pandemic, Urbach said that didn’t mean people would stop wanting to go outside and socialize safely.

“Everything’s different now with the health and safety precautions in place,” she said. “Having their COVID plans posted, having their masks, and the hand sanitization–all of that has changed. But it hasn’t prevented people from wanting to go out and socialize.”

“As the governor rolls out the next phases–phase two and phase three–more people will be able to gather,” she continued.

Nevertheless, Urbach said North Kingstown was situated better than other communities, in that the town’s facilities held smaller crowds than most–an ideal situation, as crowd sizes remain restricted.

“North Kingstown facilities tend to hold smaller crowds, under 100,” she said. “That works in businesses favor as far as rolling out.”

She also said there are a lot of activities that can be done outdoors.

“We have a lot of outdoor dining, we have the Wickford Historical Walking tour that people can do on their own, and then they can go to the stores or they can grab lunch, sit on the dock,” she said. “There’s a bunch of opportunities for them.”

“Businesses are doing a great job in making these adjustments and it needs to be noted that they’ve been really creative, really stepping up to the plate and doing a great job,” she added.  

For more information on the mask distribution, and how to obtain masks for small businesses, visit www.commerceri.com/covid-19-business-resources/ to find the form located there. And for more information on the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce, visit www.northkingstown.com.

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