Coronavirus: 'Bucketful of hope’ as Indiana man finds 30,000 forgotten N95 masks in storage

GOSHEN, Ind. — N95 masks are at a premium during the coronavirus pandemic.

“These things are like gold,” Jim Brown, pastor of Grace Community Church, told The Goshen News.

The Indiana pastor hit the mother lode March 26, as nearly 30,000 N95 masks and 1,500 bottles of hand cleaner were found in a storage unit. The supplies had been lying dormant for nearly five years after the church’s ministry twice unsuccessfully tried to send them abroad on mercy missions.

“God dropped a whole bucketful of hope in our community,” Brown told the News.

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Five years ago, Beacon Health System, which owns Elkhart General Hospital, donated the masks and hand cleaners to Grace4Iraq, the church’s refugee mission.

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“The team tried to get them in, but we could not get them into Iraq,” Brown told the News. “We were left with, I don’t know, 30,000 masks and probably 1,500 bottles of hand cleaner and didn’t really know what to do with them."

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Nick Miller, a member of the congregation, told the pastor he was connected to a charity group in Haiti and offered to send the masks to the Caribbean Island, the newspaper reported.

However, Miller ran into the same issues the church faced with its attempted delivery to Iraq.

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“There was just no way to get them in because of the emergency situation on the ground, just because of politics,” Brown told the News. “So Nick ... put them in storage in a garage somewhere ... and they have been there for a few years in storage, just sitting there.”

On March 26, one of Miller’s employees reminded him about the masks, Brown said. They went to the storage unit and found the masks still in unopened boxes.

“We realized our community needs these very masks,” Brown told the News.

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Elkhart County already had three presumptive cases of COVID-19 when the pastors called, WSBT-TV reported. Since then, 20 more cases of coronavirus have been reported, and two people have died, the News reported Wednesday.

Brown, along with fellow Grace pastor Mike Silliman, contacted Elkhart County Incident Management, according to the newspaper. The agency sent a representative that afternoon, who was given 15,000 of the masks, the News reported.

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The other half was donated to agencies in Kosciusko County and Parkview Fort Wayne, the newspaper reported. Parkview received 5,000 masks, Kosciusko Community Hospital got 10,000 and 1,000 went to the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department.

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Emergency Management public information officer Melanie Sizemore said, “It’s great that the church donated those, Melanie Sizemore, public information manager for emergency management, told the News. "It was amazing when we got the pallet. It’s like the mother lode.”

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