Club helps small businesses while providing masks for people in need

MERCED, Calif. -- A club in Central California has come up with a unique approach to supporting their community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I feel like Santa Claus walking around town handing out masks, I have masks in my car all the time and I literally walk around giving them all day long," said Robert Garcia, better known as "Zilla" around Merced.

Garcia is part of the Rotary Community Corps of Merced County, and they're focused on helping small businesses and those in need of masks at the same time.

"We were asked to collect masks and distribute them to the community as fast as possible, we ran into a problem that we couldn't just make masks as fast as everyone needed them," Garcia did. "So what we did was we gathered money from donations, and with that money, we went and bought gift cards from local vendors, and then with those gift cards, we exchanged them for homemade masks."

Those masks are then given to people in need. To this point, the group has given out more than 3,000 masks to migrant camps in Merced County, and an additional 600 masks are available for anyone who needs them at San Joaquin Drug in Planada.

"We want everyone to have masks. We even give you a mask in case you don't want to wear a mask, and you can keep it in your car so that if you go to the store and they say, 'we're required to wear a mask,' you have that option," Garcia explained. The three-pronged approach means small businesses are supported, those making masks are supported, and those in need of masks are given masks free of charge.

Nancy's Food Truck is one of 12 businesses that the Community Corps purchased gift cards from.

"It's all staying in here, so that's really nice what he's doing," said owner Nancy Virrey. "I think he's he's helping the small guys, so that's really nice."

Garcia is aided in his effort by the children and families of members of the Rotary Community Corps.

"We're firm believers in working with family and working with youth when they can... Our kids will be ready to help the future," Garcia said.

Masks are currently available at San Joaquin Drug in Planada for anyone who needs them.ed!