Metro IAF, an affiliate of a 75-year-old organizing network, isn’t usually involved in procuring emergency medical gear. The group has a history of working on issues such as jobs, criminal justice, education, and housing. But its focus has changed in recent weeks as clergy in some of the churches that belong to the network began to get desperate reports from their members on the front lines.
“We were all hearing the same story over and over again: We don’t have the equipment we need, we don’t have masks, we don’t have what we need to protect ourselves,” said Rev. David K. Brawley of the St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East Brooklyn. Many of Brawley’s congregants are front-line health care workers — “the folks who work in services within the hospitals, and not just doctors, also the folks who people tend to forget about,” he said. “These are people I deeply care about and love.”
So organizers from the group, whose member organizations include religious congregations, unions, schools, community health centers, and other civic institutions, began to investigate whether they might be able to arrange a purchase of some of the supplies themselves — and quickly found themselves in what has become the “Wild West” global market of medical supplies. Among the suppliers they identified was a Canadian distributor who claimed last week to have millions of N95 masks, but demanded a minimum purchase of 20 million.