Thousands of face masks will be making their way to local minority, female and veteran-owned small businesses through a nationwide personal protective equipment (PPE) donation program from Lowe’s.

The home improvement company, in partnership with the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and the Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce, announced Thursday morning it would distribute 4,000 KN95 non-medical masks to local businesses to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Lowe’s as a company decided it wanted to donate close to $50 million in PPE in our local communities, especially with a preference for minority, female and veteran-owned companies,” Lowe’s Assistant Store Manager Ryan Weatherby said. “We decided to partner with the Chamber of Commerce so we can get these to local businesses.”

Several businesses, mostly restaurants, had already come to Lowe’s to pick up masks by Thursday, Weatherby said. Sonia Gutierrez, a board member of the Western Colorado Latino Chamber, said they had been advertising on the Spanish-language radio sttion La Jefa and through social media to reach minority business owners.

“It’s nice to know it is making a difference and we are making an impact and are able to help our community out,” Gutierrez said. “These are local restaurants, not chain owned restaurants, which makes me a lot happier because they’re the ones that need it. They’ve been hit hard.”

President and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber Diane Schwenke said that it was important to get masks out to businesses given public health orders. She also said providing them for free would be helpful for businesses during the uncertain economic period they are experiencing.

“Our public health guidelines say if you are an employee interacting with the public you have to wear a mask,” Schwenke said. “So sometimes that’s been a little bit difficult for some of our businesses first to access them and then it is an added business expense at a time when you can ill afford it.”

Silvia Bravo with Farmers Insurance Agency was at Lowe’s Thursday morning to pick up some masks for her business. She said they would be helpful even to give to clients who did not have a mask.

“It’s actually really helpful, especially now that I feel like this epidemic is expanding more,” Bravo said. “So it’s really helpful for the people that don’t have access to (masks) or don’t know where to purchase them.”

All three organizations highlighted the importance of cooperation and partnership during the pandemic. “It’s always great when different local organizations partner up to do these community efforts,” Gutierrez said. “I think that’s the way we can make a difference.”

The mask donations are intended to go to minority and veteran-owned businesses, but Schwenke said that no small business would be turned away if it was in need of masks. Masks are available both at Lowe’s and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce offices.

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