[Editor's note: This story was submitted by guest writer Rachel Klammer, an English Ph.D. student at Oklahoma State University.]
“I work from 9 to 5, but it’s usually not until 8 p.m. that I take a break and eat dinner,” Heather Boyd (BS13) tells me. Heather is a founding member of 4M: Mid-Michigan Mask Makers, a charity providing masks to their community. She is in her living room in Saginaw, Michigan, having just finished a Zoom call with other volunteers, as she chats with me from halfway across the country.
“With COVID-19 happening, sometimes you have sleepless nights. I imagine people spend those nights differently,” she says, “but my fiancé is used to me waking up at 3 a.m. to check emails or return messages. I’ll even scour the internet to find fabric and elastic for our mask makers. I’m like a 24-hour COVID response office,” she laughs.
I’m surprised—I’d heard members of 4M talk about how much Heather was doing for her community, how she always seemed to be working, but I suppose I hadn't quite grasped exactly how much work Heather was doing. She’s quick to tell me, however: “if you love what you're doing, it's not work.”
Heather Boyd is an admin for 4M, working with founder Tami Davis, co-admin Lynn Klammer (MS88) and more than 300 volunteers to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare workers in Michigan. Since the group's founding on March 20, the volunteers have provided more than 13,000 masks, free-of-charge to their community, during a time when not only masks, but their components—things like fabric and elastic—are hard to come by.
“It's amazing what two old friends and one random stranger can do," founder Tami Davis says, “because we met Heather by chance—on Facebook.”
Heather grew up in a low-income family in Michigan, struggled with homelessness, and saw first-hand the things that Michigan residents are still dealing with today. She moved away for college at Eastern Michigan University, but when she settled again in the Saginaw area and saw the struggles her neighbors were facing, she knew she had to do something.
“I moved here and was amazed by how resilient people are, how much they love and care for each other, how willing they are to lend a hand. I felt really driven to help create programs or improve programs that would make it so that my community would be a better place to live—a place to raise kids, a better place for everyone who lives here,” she says.
With COVID-19, the types of problems have changed, but the need in the area has stayed the same. “People in places like Saginaw are living in food deserts,” Heather says, telling me about her volunteer work with the HM Boy’s Community Garden. “If you walk into a supermarket in the Saginaw area, you’ll be greeted with an empty produce section, even if you have the money to purchase food. Disparity in Michigan already existed, but with COVID-19, those issues are only getting worse, and people are at a loss. They ask me; how can I help?”
She says that people are losing their jobs, and basic services like public transportation are shut down. “Even if people had money for food, how are they supposed to get it?” she asks, and she’s not just talking about supermarkets. While federal money may be going to programs to help low-income families secure food, that doesn't mean that places with higher need are seeing that money. Under quarantine orders, without cars or public transportation, many families are trapped.
Still though, Heather says that Saginaw—those living there and their strength—blows her away. “It’s the sheer resilience, beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time, that drives me, still, to do everything I can to help.”
I ask her what the future looks like, not just for her, but for 4M, and she laughs. “I hope one day this goes back to what we decide is normal and I get to take a week-long vacation to catch up on sleep.” She pauses, thinking. “I also hope that our volunteers get a vacation, because they all deserve gold medals. I hope people will remember, when all of this is over, just how much our community can accomplish when we come together for one another—what the people of Saginaw can accomplish.”