Colette Morales and Rachel Engel decided to do something simple to show their gratitude for medical workers and those on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic: They supplied care packages filled with hand creams, lotions, and oils — products designed to calm and soothe after arduous shifts in maxed-out facilities. At the end of March, they launched Beauty, PPE, and Essential Care For The Ones That Are There on Facebook, looking to solicit donations.
And then the requests began. They soon found themselves supplying not just goodie bags of beauty products, but masks, surgical gloves, caps, gowns, food, protein shakes, gift cards, and just about anything needed by front-liners pulling double and triple shifts.
“Our original plan was like, ‘Cool, we’ll just get these beauty products and we’ll help distribute them out,” says Morales who, along with Engel, spoke with me by phone last week. “We weren’t thinking that we were going to become the mask dealers of the Tri-State area!”
A month ago, Engel admits that she didn’t even know what an N95 mask was. Now, however, they’re a regular item on the list. “We’ve been collecting right from the get-go,” she tells me, “and every single dollar that we get we’ve been going out and purchasing PPE and masks or surgical gowns or gloves or hand sanitizers. Basically anything we can get our hands on.”
Engel and Morales, who both have years of experience in the beauty and wellness industry, have been collaborating on fundraisers for years. Morales is one of the co-founders of New York FitFest, a yearly fitness retreat held on Long Beach in September. Engel, who was furloughed from her salon job at the beginning of the pandemic, now works as a business development manager helping to staff nursing homes and assisted living facilities with nurses and care assistants — not a bad gig for someone whose spare time is now spent delivering care packages to first responders. The two are friendly and gregarious, quick to praise their fellow volunteers and finish each other’s sentences. They came up with the idea for Beauty, PPE, and Essential Care after witnessing a mutual friend, who is a healthcare worker, suffering the stress of long hours and pressure sores from her mask.
“To have her in any kind of pain and complaining about anything is just not like her,” Engel says. “So we’re like, we need to do something to help people because if she’s complaining, imagine how other people are feeling.”
“Spread a little love,” adds Morales.
But it was after launching on social media that they became aware of just how in short supply medical facilities, especially smaller operations like nursing homes and rehab centers, were. In addition to getting donations of wellness products, they started getting cash donations — and requests. “We were like, ‘Okay, we’re getting a lot of requests for masks,’” says Morales. “And I have no idea how Rachel did it, she managed to be the only person in New York that was able to find masks and that was that. And then it just … snowballed after that.”
To date, their campaign has raised $17,000 in cash donations, which go toward the purchase of protective medical supplies like masks, gowns, and surgical gloves, and an incalculable amount in beauty and wellness products, donated by large companies, small businesses, and individuals. And while the pair began the operation with the modest intention of staying local to Long Beach, they’re now sending care packages across the greater New York area and are even fielding requests from around the country.
Care packages, or “beauty bags,” change weekly, they tell me, depending on what donated goods they’ve received. “People are donating the most incredible things and anything,” says Engel, “From, Eminence, which is a $100 product, all the way down to lip glosses that someone’s making in their house, goat-milk soaps, and lotions. It’s brands all the way down to very small shops that just want to be able to give back and feel like they’re part of doing something to make sure people feel loved.”
Although the aim is still to provide frontline workers in facilities with these tokens of appreciation, the mission of Beauty, PPE, and Essential Care has extended to anyone in need. Recently, Engel and Morales collaborated with another group, Jeannie’s Fund, to supply iPads to Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, allowing intensive care patients in isolation to communicate with families on the outside. They might also, Engel notes, bring masks to radiation and chemotherapy patients who are overlooked in the current crisis. And while we were speaking, Engel received a message from the owner of a taxi company requesting care packages with lotions and hand creams for drivers busy shuttling hospital workers.
One of their favorite things, Morales tells me, “is when we get home from working the entire day, and they text us a photo of the PPE that we’ve give them — the masks and the lotions and stuff — and they’re like, ‘This literally made my day!’” Seeing firsthand how hard these responders are working behind the scenes — and witnessing both their physical and emotional exhaustion — makes giving “that little bit of love” extra rewarding.
“I know that when you feel physically and mentally exhausted, just getting a little bit of extra love and self-care will go such a long way,” she says. “A little mask, just to put it on your face at night — it just makes you feel like you’re doing something for yourself that’s incredible.”
Morales is no stranger to disaster relief and has been spearheading fundraisers since 2005. Compared to other disasters like Hurricane Sandy, social media has played a much bigger role in getting their message out to the public. The coronavirus, a global rather than local phenomenon, is also an equalizer. “You don’t feel as alone because you feel like the whole, entire world — literally rich, poor, you’ve got every race on the planet, every celebrity’s feeling it, every homeless person. It doesn’t have any discrimination.”
With Beauty, PPE, and Essential Care, they aren’t slowing down anytime soon. Requests, Engel tells me, can vary day to day, from someone needing a few masks to a facility requesting care packages for their overworked staff. Morales and Engel also added a feature to the Facebook page, highlighting one essential frontline worker each day.
They are also accepting donations, especially for beauty and wellness products for busy people on the go such as lotions, hand creams and sanitizers, and dry shampoos. But homemade gifts, like beaded bracelets and bright, colorful cloth masks to wear over surgical ones, are also appreciated, Engel tells me. “Anything that anybody wants to donate that can go into our bags that is going to bring joy to someone that’s out there working 15-20 hour shifts sometimes.”
For her part, Morales looks forward to the days when their Beauty initiative is no longer needed. “I’m praying that this slows down soon,” she says of the medical crisis which, she notes, is starting to show a little light at the end of the tunnel. Until then, however, they’re ready to go for whatever is needed. “We’re not stopping until we absolutely feel that people are ready and they don’t need us anymore, you know?”
If you would like to donate to Beauty, PPE, and Essential Care For The Ones That Are There, visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1479517795544421/.