Who I see as heroes are the essential workers, teachers, and everyone that wears masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. We are still in the thick of this, and with the summer weather — as well as things, opening up — I think some people are getting too relaxed. We must remember our heroes and what they have been through over the past three months. My mom is also a personal hero. Before she retired, she was a nurse and director of a hospice. Her job wasn’t easy, she essentially dealt with death every day. Yet it was honorable and necessary. She helped patients and their families face something no one wants to, and despite the emotional toll it took, she loved what she did because she knew she was helping others.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Becky Vieira. Becky is a stay-at-home-mom, who set out to help one friend, and in the process launched a global campaign to deliver PPE to front line workers. In early March 2020, a fellow mom in her son’s preschool classmates told her about the impending PPE shortage at the hospital where she worked as a doctor. As a mom blogger, Becky has a small Instagram following (52.5 followers), and she shared her friend’s request for N95 masks and other supplies. After posting that one request to her followers to help deliver PPE to the front lines, more began pouring into her inbox. In less than a day, the response was so overwhelming that she realized she couldn’t do it alone. She turned to her fellow mom bloggers and they created an Instagram page, @masksforheroes, to handle the constant influx of requests. From there, it took less than 48-hours to create a website and amass a team of volunteers that includes influencers, web engineers and developers, and PR experts. Masks for Heroes was officially born. Masks For Heroes has been supported by many celebrities and has partnered with fashion brands like Trina Turk and Free People to make masks to fulfill requests. To date, the group has facilitated the delivery of thousands and thousands of masks in multiple countries.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?
I grew up in Cupertino, CA — also known as the home of Apple Computers — and also lived for a short while in Australia. We traveled often, and I was lucky to have a firsthand view of the world at such a young age. It definitely shaped who I am today.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love to read, and there are many books that have impacted me over the course of my life thus far. But the one that I remember reading from an early age that altered my life perspective was “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Not only was it a prelude for learning about the Holocaust, but reading Anne’s words and learning about her short life awakened something in me. She was a young girl like I was at the time, and I saw how important her words were. It taught me that as a child, a girl, my words and actions mattered. It gave me a lot of confidence and I actually started writing letters to companies. I specifically remember writing to Milton Bradley games and asking why their board games only had pictures of white children on the boxes, and never anyone of color. Come to think of it, I never got a response to that one!
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“What’s meant to be is meant to be.” My grandmother, who lived to be 100 years old, said this daily and it’s become our family motto. It’s helped me greatly in tough times, to just give myself permission to let go when I can’t control something and trust that the universe is at work on something bigger.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
Yes! A few weeks before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, a fellow mom from my son’s preschool was telling me that in the hospital where she works as a doctor they were facing a shortage of face masks and that it was only going to get worse. I have a small following on social media, so I posted a request for PPE. It quickly turned into an entire operation and Masks For Heroes was officially born. Masks For Heroes is working to end the global shortage of PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic by facilitating global donations to health care workers on the frontlines.
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?
A person who selflessly does something to help others, especially when there is nothing to be gained for themself. We often read about celebrities making monetary donations, which is wonderful, yet they also receive press coverage because their publicist tells the media about it. I consider a hero someone who goes out of their way to make the world a better place, whether it’s a big action or a small, kind gesture. And oftentimes most people never even hear about it.
In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.
The 5 characteristics of a hero:
When I think about what it means to be a hero, I am instantly brought back to September 11th, 2001. As the planes hit the twin towers, we sat and watched our TVs in shock, knowing full well that disaster was imminent. I remember watching everyone run from the scene screaming in terror, yet in the background, couldn’t help but notice those running towards the buildings that would eventually fall, desperate to help anyone they could.
That is what it means to be a hero, in my eyes. Someone who will forsake themselves, be brave enough to put themselves out there in a potentially deadly situation, just to give of themself for the mere hope of saving a life. These are the same people who don’t expect anything in return; no pomp, no circumstance, just the knowing in their hearts that they did what they could to make a difference.
If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?
I feel that it comes from believing in something so strongly that one’s drive to get involved and help far outweighs any other fears. It’s that simple.
What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?
Knowing that some of the moms from my son’s preschool, my friends, were willingly going to work each day in a hospital without adequate PPE. I thought, “if they can do that then I can certainly get to work helping to find them face masks and other protective equipment.”
Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?
Who I see as heroes are the essential workers, teachers, and everyone that wears masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. We are still in the thick of this, and with the summer weather — as well as things, opening up — I think some people are getting too relaxed. We must remember our heroes and what they have been through over the past three months.
My mom is also a personal hero. Before she retired, she was a nurse and director of a hospice. Her job wasn’t easy, she essentially dealt with death every day. Yet it was honorable and necessary. She helped patients and their families face something no one wants to, and despite the emotional toll it took, she loved what she did because she knew she was helping others.
Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?
Besides the virus itself, I’m scared that people still don’t take it seriously and the numbers continue to spike. There is so much fighting over wearing masks and refusal to practice proper social distancing. This pandemic is beginning to feel endless, and many of the deaths we’ve seen could have been, should have been prevented.
Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain it?
My three and a half-year-old son, and other children. I find this has been especially confusing for him. He was at preschool one day, and the next his entire world was locked up, literally. He had a hard time understanding what was going on, despite our best efforts to explain. He was worried the cold he had the month prior was what caused everyone to get sick. Another time he asked me, “Mommy, what did I do wrong? No one comes to see me anymore.” My heart would break over and over again. He went through a range of emotions and we saw some behavioral regressions as he adjusted to his new normal. Yet now, more than three months later, he is adjusted. He happily washes his hands frequently, asks for hand sanitizer to keep his hands clean, and wears a mask without a fuss if we have to go out in public. You always hear people say “kids are resilient,” but to actually see it transpire over the past few months has been a sight to behold. He’s reminded me that we all have that resiliency in us, that we can adapt and move forward, hopefully, stronger because of all we’ve endured.
What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?
Despite the fact that some are contributing to the spread of COVID, others have been selfless in their quest to help. We have people sewing thousands of masks to donate, some donate fabric or the use of their sewing machine. We have volunteers who help us keep our donation request map up-to-date, or drive to hospitals to drop off masks. The list of the kind deeds that have helped to make Masks for Heroes a success is endless. At our core, people are good… and that’s what gives me hope and inspiration to keep going.
I’m still in shock at people who fight the idea of wearing a mask. If not for you, why not for others? People don’t believe they help, or that they have a right to do as they choose. Even if masks didn’t help (but they DO!), what does it hurt to wear one? Best case scenario, you save your life or someone else’s. Worst case, you wore a mask. I guess I just can’t grasp how that is a bad thing. Of all the things to fight over, why this? Imagine if that passion and energy were channeled into another cause, like sewing masks. Now that would be helpful.
Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.
Absolutely. I think it’s made me pull back on everything and reevaluate my world and the people around me. And that’s not a bad thing. It was a good reminder to always be vigilant with my family’s health and safety. And a sad reminder that, while many people are genuinely kind and helpful, society as a whole seems to be a bit selfish. My guard will definitely be up more from now on.
What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?
I’d like to see people be more aware of the needs of others and more considerate. From simple things like sneezing and coughing into your arm and giving people more personal space. I also hope this helps us slow down a bit, spend more time with one another.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
That it’s easier than you think and more rewarding than you could ever imagine. I kept thinking, “how can I make a difference? Who am I in the grand scheme of things?” But that’s just it. One person can make an impact, whether it’s with one person or one million.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
While there are several things I’d love to help with, one issue that I’m especially passionate about is maternal mental health, specifically postpartum depression. I suffered from severe PPD for months after the birth of my son and became suicidal. I am lucky that my family noticed and I spoke up and got help. But many aren’t as fortunate. We have such a stigma around mental health in our society in general, and you add to that what new moms endure and it’s just heartbreaking. For starters, we need to educate the partners of these new moms, help them understand PPD and what to look for. I was so severely depressed and I thought it was normal for all new moms to feel that way. My mom, however, is a nurse and quickly knew something was amiss. We’re given endless pamphlets and information from the hospital when we give birth, I think we need to add to that maternal mental health information for those close to new moms.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
There are so many people I respect immensely. I’d love to speak with Hillary Clinton because she amazes me in how she balanced her family and career. As my son gets older and I have more time to put back into my career, I often wonder what’s next for me, how to transition to that next chapter. I look to her as a great example of someone who seems to have seamlessly done that more than once.
But, as for a hero in the times of COVID-19, I’d have to say that the Masks For Heroes team and I are just immensely excited about all the things Dave Matthews has been doing lately. The core group of Masks For Heroes is big fans and what he is doing for his fans during this time is huge. We look forward to his Drive-In concerts every Wednesday night. He’s been a great distraction and he’s also helping raise money for some great causes especially those that are feeding the hungry. And he is also on the same page as us regarding wearing a mask! In his last Verizon Small Business concert he compared wearing a mask to putting on pants that you wear pants in stores and don’t be a “big baby” about wearing masks.
How can our readers follow you online?
Masks For Heroes can be found at www.MasksForHeroes.com
Twitter: @MasksFor Heroes
I can be found on Instagram at @WittyOtter
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!