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Getting Essential Workers Home Safely During COVID-19

Jorge Antonio Dzib Medina commutes five days per week to his job as a cook at Fiorella, an Italian restaurant in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood. In his more than 20 years as a San Francisco resident, he never needed to purchase a car for his commute. 


A Crafty Way to Fight COVID-19 and Waste

Last March, little was known about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and no timeline was set for a return to normal, but three things were certain: personal protective (PPE) equipment was in shortage, disposable masks would create waste, and San Francisco non-profit SCRAP had plenty of recycled fabric to spare. 

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Jorge Antonio Dzib Medina prepares a salad at San Francisco restaurant, Fiorella. 

Jorge Antonio Dzib Medina commutes five days per week to his job as a cook at Fiorella, an Italian restaurant in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood. In his more than 20 years as a San Francisco resident, he never needed to purchase a car for his commute, relying instead on San Francisco’s public transit system. But at the on-set of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Jorge’s confidence was shattered. “Riding the bus made me worry about my health and safety, being in close distance to others and running the risk of infection,” Jorge shared. “I also worried about how I would get home late at night if I missed the last bus.”  

Essential workers have worked non-stop during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, public transit was the primary mode of transportation for many San Francisco workers like Jorge. In February 2020, MUNI tracked 1.5 million weekly boardings. But as the City transitioned to shelter-in-place in March 2020, many establishments closed their doors and offices turned to remote work. SFMTA and other regional transit providers, in turn, reduced their service routes and hours, leaving  essential workers scrambling to find ways to get home. Hyejung Jun was among them. 

Hyejung Jun in the Music Concourse in front of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.  
Hyejung started her job as a senior center caregiver at the height of the pandemic. Though she was thrilled to start a new full-time job, Hyejung was concerned about how she would get home at five o’clock in the morning after her late-night shifts. Hyejung built rapport with her new co-workers and sometimes carpooled. At other times she walked, or had no choice but to use a ride-sharing service, spending more than she otherwise would on public transit. 
Questions of health and safety and the extra expense associated with commuting during the pandemic disproportionately impacted essential workers like Hyejung and Jorge. In response, San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Commissioner Matt Haney called on SFCTA to find a way to help San Francisco-based essential workers. SFCTA, Bay Area Air District, and the San Francisco Department of Environment (SF Environment) stepped up to support those in need by creating the Essential Worker Ride Home Program.  
SF Environment worked swiftly to implement and administer the new program. By early May, the program was running and processing reimbursements for safe and reliable taxi rides for essential workers to their San Francisco workplace. The program expands on a legacy program, Emergency Ride Home, and supports those who commute to work using a sustainable mode of transportation. Those who carpool, bike, bus, or walk to work  help San Francisco get closer to its Climate Action goal of having 80 percent of all trips in San Francisco taken by sustainable modes, to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.  

Jorge and his manager, Megan, at Fiorella restaurant. Image taken before the pandemic.*  

Jorge, who primarily commuted to work by bus  five days a week before the pandemic, was a perfect candidate for the Essential Worker Ride Home program. When Jorge’s manager, Megan, told him about the Essential Worker Ride Home program, it was welcome news to learn that he could get home by simply calling for a taxi. Jorge noted, “I’m grateful for the program because I can get to my family quicker without having to stress about the cost, my health, or my safety.”  
Hyejung was also grateful to learn about the program through a co-worker. She noted, “It’s convenient and easy to call a taxi when needed, and helpful for me, especially not having a car.” Thanks to the program, Hyejung can quickly find a ride when she ends her shift early in the morning after a long night at work. After the pandemic she will continue to choose walking and public transit as her main modes of transportation. To date, the program has funded more than 2,000 taxi rides home for essential workers, like Jorge and Hyejung, who commute to work sustainably.

About Essential Worker Ride Home Program 
The Essential Worker Ride Home program provides a reliable and safe taxi ride home from work for essential employees commuting to and within San Francisco, helping to fill the gap left by reductions in public transportation services.  The program covers the cost of taxi rides home for essential employees in San Francisco, up to ten (10) rides per month, per person, and up to $70 per ride. For the most up to date information on eligibility requirements, click here. Program details and application are also available in Spanish and Chinese.  

A Crafty Way to Fight COVID-19 and Waste

Three people standing holding bags of mask with one person crouching holding bag of masks behind cardboard boxes

African American Art & Culture Complex and SCRAP SF staff holding bags of face masks. 

Last March, little was known about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and no timeline was set for a return to normal, but three things were certain: personal protective (PPE) equipment was in shortage, disposable masks would create waste, and San Francisco non-profit SCRAP had plenty of recycled fabric to spare.

At the time, as public health officials and the media stressed the importance of wearing a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19, people across the country flocked to stores and online retailers to buy disposable surgical masks. Though masks are essential to public health during the pandemic, disposable ones can come at a cost to our environment. In Wuhan, the first epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, hospitals produced six times more PPE waste per day than prior to the pandemic. At its peak, Wuhan produced 240 tons of plastic waste. If the U.S. were to follow, it would generate a year’s worth of medical waste, 5 million tons, in two months

To meet the desperate need for PPE at the beginning of the pandemic, SCRAP, which specializes in creative reuse of discarded materials, mobilized its powerful army of volunteers, artists, and other supporters to start cranking out reusable masks. With the support of a zero waste grant from the San Francisco Department of the Environment (SF Environment), to date SCRAP has made more than 2,000 reusable masks for the City. It partnered with the African American Arts and Cultural Center to distribute them in San Francisco’s historically marginalized communities in Bayview, Fillmore/Western Addition, and Tenderloin District.

Fabric scraps with different prints

Scrap of fabric.

SCRAP is the nation’s oldest creative reuse center, established in  1976. As experts in creative reuse, SCRAP is the go-to place for San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) teachers to access  free or low-cost recycled material for arts and crafts projects and general classroom supplies. The non-profit continues to make a huge impact on San Francisco’s zero waste goals: every year, San Francisco students and artists divert about 200 tons of arts and crafts materials that would otherwise have gone to landfill.

In early March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SCRAP closed its doors and paused in-person workshops. Yet, even with their doors were closed, SCRAP’s first question was, “How do we continue to serve our community?”— and  the Face Mask Making Program was born. The program produces hand-made reusable masks and distributes them via partner organizations.

With a $10,000 grant from SF Environment and relying on their network and word-of-mouth, SCRAP mobilized quickly. SCRAP community members made hundreds of reusable masks to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and keep San Franciscans and the environment safe. Leah Fong, one of the mask-makers, contributed her sewing skills and talked about her reasons for participating. “During this pandemic, many of the most-at-risk residents may not have time to sew or buy masks,” she said. “I wanted to help as much as I could with the extra fabric and materials I had at home, because everyone deserves to have a mask to feel protected.” SCRAP provides fabric and materials from their reuse center for mask-makers, though many have their own or had previously purchased fabric from the organization’s depot center prior to its closing (yes, reuse!).

 Woman with black-framed glasses, flower mask holding a roll of fabric Rows of masks on table
SCRAP SF shopper with roll of fabric of left. Table with different patterned masks on right. 

Mask-makers like Laura Chinn-Smoot understand  the impact the SCRAP mask-making initiative has on the environment and the community. A SCRAP regular since the 1980s and a former SFUSD public school teacher, Laura relied on SCRAP for her classroom arts and craft projects. Laura recalled, “When I graduated from my 36-year SF public school teaching career, I knew exactly where to send my cool ‘SCRAPs’ as I cleared out my classroom.” After retiring, Laura donated all of her school supplies to SCRAP to give them a second life. Now Laura contributes to the San Francisco community by making comfortable and stylish masks with SCRAP. Laura makes each mask with care, sewing her masks for comfort and durability. She carefully selects durable elastics, fun patterns, and always makes sure to include instructions for care and handling. 

By July  2020, 63 sewers dropped off or mailed five to 50 reusable masks each, totaling 1,100 masks that were delivered to the African American Art & Culture Complex. These masks benefited Mo’MAGIC, Regina’s Door, The Village Project, SF Collective Impact, and many other San Francisco community-based organizations. And while the initial program was launched to meet the huge need for PPE in the early days of the pandemic, it has continued to serve the ongoing need for PPE that won’t harm the environment. In November, SCRAP surpassed their initial goal of 2,000 masks with 2,238 masks made.  Their new goal is to make 3,000 masks. SCRAP is still in search of more mask-makers– no sewing experience necessary, and materials can be provided. The goal is to make sure San Franciscans are masked and to extend the life of the fabrics.

Take Action
Support SCRAP’s Face Mask Making Program by volunteering as a mask-maker, donating fabrics and materials, or shopping at the SCRAP reuse center. To join the community of mask-makers, email Danielle Grant:
Join the SCRAP community in reducing waste: when possible, choose a reusable mask or face covering and make sure to toss your disposable masks, gloves, and disinfectant wipes in the black bin.

About the Zero Waste Grant Program
The Zero Waste Grant Program awards grant funding to non-profit organizations whose work in source reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting helps San Francisco towards zero waste. From community composting workshops, to implementing composting and recycling at local events, to collecting textile clothing, these organizations exemplify diverse strategies to achieve zero waste. 


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