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Austin Mask Exchange looking to give away free masks as economy opens back up

Austin Mask Exchange started with about six people making masks in April. By May 3, 35 people are sewing the masks together to give them away to the public.

AUSTIN, Texas — In mid-April, Liam Kozma and a handful of other Reddit users got together to create Austin Mask Exchange: a central location for people to order masks and for mask-makers to deliver them.

By May 3, with up to 35 people making masks, Austin Mask Exchange handles about a dozen orders for masks per day all across Travis, Williamson and Hays Counties. 

Each order can be for one mask all the way up to 10 or more depending on the need. 

"The hardest part about it is actually materials," LeeAnne Brown, one of the mask makers, said. "For a little while, I was doing that, cranking out as many as I could a day and then go on and see who needed one." 

Brown has been making masks for six weeks. She started making them briefly before being furloughed from her work at a dentist's office.

Orders can be placed on the organization's website. It's also where people can place orders to pay for masks if they can afford to. 

According to Kozma, he hopes people who can afford to pay for masks will do so to keep giving people an income. Many of the mask-making vendors on the website are either transitioned businesses or people who are furloughed or laid off of work and don't have an income at the moment.

"If you can connect them with a vendor who can make a mask that will work for them, and the individual or family has the ability to pay, not only does that help individuals who may be out of work or help businesses who are trying to scrape by and help the economy, but it also allows people to purchase a mask that works for them," Kozma said.

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On the organization's website, people can also volunteer to make masks if they have the time and resources to do so. 

"It is a group of people who, during this difficult period in time, want to find some way to give their time, energy, money and talents towards making a difference," Kozma said.

Kozma put out a call to action for people who can make them, as the more makers are available, the more masks can be given to others as Central Texas starts to reopen for business.

"This situation requires a community solution," Kozma said. "As the economy picks up, to prevent the virus from spreading like it wants to, it requires us to change our behavior in some fundamental ways."

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