As the election approaches on November 3rd and state governments scramble to figure out how to keep voters safe from the coronavirus at in-person polling places, a number of large outdoor companies are stepping up to help.
Answering a call from Operation Vote Safe, a nationwide campaign led by the nonprofit Business for America (BFA), companies like REI, Patagonia, and Outdoor Research have donated time, technological expertise, and thousands of units of PPE to polling places across the country. The donations will help ensure the safety of voters and poll workers so that, as BFA founder and CEO Sarah Bonk said, "no one needs to choose between their health and their vote."
New brands are joining the campaign every day, Bonk told SNEWS on Wednesday. So far, Patagonia, KEEN, and Burton have sent thousands of masks to election officials in several states, as well as to the Native American Voters Alliance in New Mexico through a partnership with Native Vote. Outdoor Research has donated 10,000 masks to Washington and Pennsylvania state officials. Clif Bar has donated tens of thousands of energy bars to help feed poll workers on November 3.
"This initiative was born out of necessity," Bonk said. "The first coronavirus relief package [passed in March] had $400 million set aside to protect the election. According to elections experts, it's actually going to take close to $4 billion. To close that gap, we had the idea to call on the business community."
Pledges of support across the outdoor industry came quickly and decisively from brand leaders.
"When it comes to the future of our democracy, our votes have never mattered more," said J.J. Huggins, a spokesperson for Patagonia. "For too many Americans, the barriers to casting their ballots have never been higher. We want to do our part to help the community vote by mail, vote early, or vote in person. Most importantly, people need to vote safely."
A network of aid
REI, which began collaborating with BFA in July, has gone even further than a simple donation of product. Together with BFA, the company developed a digital PPE marketplace to help states and municipalities get what they need to run their elections safely and smoothy.
Built on technology REI spent $100,000 developing in the spring to distribute PPE to healthcare workers, the new tool has been adapted for the needs of polling places. It was released yesterday, already fully stocked with product.
"We reached out to the REI vendor base, made up of 1000-plus companies, and asked them to populate the marketplace with products they started making in the spring to help with the crisis," said REI director of government and community affairs Marc Berejka. "Companies can sell their PPE products directly through the marketplace starting today, or donate them if they've chosen to give them away for free."
The marketplace dovetails with a second tool BFA released this week: the Vote Safe Action Map, a "one-stop interactive dashboard for election officials to identify needed materials, and for businesses to fulfill those needs," according to a BFA release. The tool covers the 13 states in which Operation Vote Safe is currently active. Businesses can filter by state, county, and category of need to identify the biggest deficits in polling place resources and contact state election officials to fill those needs.
"Our community has always stood behind protecting the outdoors," said Berejka. "This year, voting for officials who will fight for our environment is a big part of that. In that way, helping people vote safely fulfills part of our core mission. It's absolutely critical."