25 years ago I started a backpack gear company, Gossamer Gear. While it literally started in my garage, we now manufacture some of our products overseas. I get emails periodically from manufacturers in China wanted to sew backpacks or tents for us, which I ignore because we already have trusted partners. As the pandemic unrolled in 2020, I started getting emails and LinkedIn requests to connect from bag manufacturers offering to sell masks. I didn’t pay any attention to them, because I figured if I was getting these emails, then so were the people who needed the masks. Then one day I was talking with my friend Matt Abrams, a local business guy in Bend who seems to know everyone, and he shared that friends of his at St. Charles Medical Center and Central Oregon Pediatric Associates (COPA) were desperate for masks and unable to procure them through their usual channels. So I figured I would see what I could do. So three years ago in April 2020, I wired $10,700 to a contact from LinkedIn, for 5000 surgical masks and 5000 N95 masks. Before the week was out, I had the surgical masks, which I donated. The 5000 N95 masks took longer to clear Customs, but were eventually received and also donated.
The three things that made this possible were:
1. Living with a margin. This is something everyone can do, maybe too late for this crisis, but useful for the next one. Long ago, we set up a separate checking account with its own debit card, and every time we got paid, we took a fixed percentage of it and put it into this account. That way, when needs arise, we have the means to help, independent of our personal financial situation at that point.
2. Being connected. If it weren’t for Matt Abrams, I would never have known that people who needed masks are unable to procure enough through their normal channels, and would never have thought to use resources available to me in an effort to procure some. We all have different connections, and we can all have our antennae up for opportunities to use our unique talents and resources. The more we talk to people, the more we find out ways that they might be able to help us in the future, and they find out ways that we may be able to help them. Matt is a master at making these connections between people, and one of my goals is to become more like him.
3. Unique resources. We all have different experiences, different connections, different skills we’ve picked up along the way. It may not be obvious how to bring those to bear, but it’s worth giving some thought. I would never have guessed that starting a backpacking company 25 years ago would mean that I would have connections that could be used to obtain sorely-needed masks in a time of crisis.
I’ll bet many of you have your own stories about how you’ve been able to use your unique talents to meet a need.