The Road to 10,000 Masks: An ANTrepreneur’s Response Efforts to COVID-19

Winter Quarter at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) seemed like any other. As campus prepared for finals and the upcoming Spring Break, many students were balancing school and other important projects. Like her classmates, third-year business administration major Vy Vu had a lot more than school work going on.

Specifically, Vy was excited to make progress on her startup business, Plan Ahead. With support from UCI’s ANTrepreneur Center, Vy was creating a logo for her company and preparing to start development on a prototype for her mobile application. However, like much of the world, COVID-19 brought Vy’s plans to a screeching halt. 

Vy explains, “I decided to delay the Plan Ahead project until the pandemic is over.” While she was disappointed by the interruption, Vy knew that amid the crisis, her change in plans was a minor concern. As she put her startup on the backburner, Vy began to look for opportunities to use her entrepreneurial skills to help others.

From family members who worked in healthcare, Vy learned that a shortage of personal protective equipment, specifically face masks, was becoming a major problem for hospitals all over the country. In fact, hospital staff at several Orange County hospitals did not have access to the face masks that would protect them from contracting COVID-19. The situation had gotten so bad that some healthcare workers were forced to wear the same protective masks for weeks at a time. 

Alarmed by the news, Vy reached out to a friend to discuss what they could do to lend their support. As they talked about finding ways to purchase masks to donate, an idea dawned on Vy–why not make her own masks and donate those?

This was the idea that sparked the mask creation and donation campaign she calls Face Mask OC. At first, Vy didn’t have any grand plans for launching a major volunteer effort, but she knew that she could use her business skills to give back to the medical workers on the frontline of the pandemic. Understanding the importance of public outreach, she posted on her personal social media accounts to encourage her friends and family to get involved.

She recalls, “I recommended three ways that people could participate in a campaign to help people who need masks.” First, she asked for monetary donations so she could source the materials to make masks. Second, she asked for volunteers who would sew the facemasks using the materials and patterns she provided. Finally, she asked for volunteers to help her transport materials directly to the people making the masks.

When she first made her posts, Vy anticipated that she would receive moderate interest. She explains, “I thought that I just needed $1,000, and I could distribute 1,000 masks. That seemed like a lot for me.” 

However, her idea generated so much attention from the community that she outpaced her goal within days of making the posts. “I was so surprised, “ Vy laughs, “In the first three days, I received over $3,000 in donations!” In addition to monetary donations, people were eager to offer their time as well. Vy notes, “At first, I only had four volunteers. By the end of the first week, I had 15.”

Now, Face Mask OC boasts a network of 28 volunteers, over $7,000 in funding, and over 8,000 masks donated. 

Naturally, the surprising growth of her campaign does bring logistical challenges. For instance, Vy mentions that sourcing fabric, delivering it to her volunteers, and picking up the finished masks has her driving all over Orange County. Additionally, she also personally irons, packs, and delivers the masks to various hospitals and donation centers as far as San Diego.

As a full-time UCI student, Vy is already devoting much of her time to her school work. Her weekends and any remaining free time is dedicated to managing Face Mask OC. While she admits that the campaign has kept her very busy, she doesn’t see this as a burden.

She explains, “I started this because I really wanted to help people. When I can do something for my family, friends, or community, I’m happy to do it. I don’t feel like it’s a sacrifice because I’m lucky that I can help.”

With the goal of donating 10,000 masks nearly complete, Vy knows that the work she is doing for Face Mask OC is coming to an end. However, her experience has taught her valuable lessons on collaboration, communication, outreach, and, perhaps most importantly, self-confidence.

Vy confesses that her own insecurities and doubts almost prevented Face Mask OC from ever getting started. She recalls, “At first, I was very worried. I didn’t know if any hospital would need our masks because I knew for sure that they were not qualified medical masks.”

Though her concerns could have ended Face Mask OC before it ever got off the ground, Vy eventually determined the potential good of her actions far outweighed the risks. Vy explains, “We just wanted to try and help. Even if the hospitals didn’t need masks, I knew for sure that our community would. So that’s why I just went ahead and did it.”

While Vy’s own initiative and hard work formed the foundation of Face Mask OC, she is quick to deflect any personal praise. In fact, she credits the support of her loved ones, UCI’s ANTrepreneur Center, and the community for Face Mask OC’s success. Vy states, “The most valuable thing that the Face Mask OC Team received from this campaign is love. We want to share our love with frontline healthcare workers and our community.” This sentiment is also expressed in Face Mask OC’s mottos: “The more we share, the more we receive” and “Teamwork makes everything happen.”

Vy insists that she could never have managed Face Mask OC without the support offered by her UCI family. Specifically, Vy acknowledges UCI professor Lorraine Gesk for helping her establish the campaign. She also thanks Sandy Lee Nga from the Merage School’s Leadership Experience And Development for Success (LEADS) Program for helping her increase her networking and outreach model. Finally, she also expresses her gratitude for Jaune Odombrown, manager of UCI’s ANTrepreneur Center, for helping her develop the branding and logo for Face Mask OC.

 According to Jaune, “Vy’s success with Face Mask OC is a great example of how entrepreneurial skills are translatable across fields. By developing her networking, outreach, and communication skills, Vy was able to make a meaningful difference for thousands of people.”

Ultimately, Vy emphasizes that Face Mask OC is not her campaign–it is a campaign made possible by the efforts of those around her. When asked if she had any final words on Face Mask OC and its charitable work, Vy makes sure to draw attention to her community of support. She concludes, “I would like to thank all donors and volunteers who made this happen.”

While Face Mask OC is no longer accepting donations or volunteers, you can keep up with Vy and her team as they fulfill their goal of donating 10,000 masks. You can follow Vy and the Face Mask OC campaign via Facebook and LinkedIn. You can also contact Vy at facemaskocteam@gmail.com