MINNEAPOLIS -- Like many around the world these days, Mitch Retelny, the Twins' senior manager of special events and promotions, wondered how an organization like the Twins could leverage their resources and connections to help people like healthcare providers and grocery workers who continue their tireless work to save and support lives amid this coronavirus pandemic.
It occurred to him that the Twins could help address the need for personal protective equipment with their unused stock of Homer Hankies from the 2019 MLB postseason.
It took some time to ensure that the plan would be possible and medically sound, but that idea at last became a reality with the help of corporate partners Love Your Melon and Faribault Woolen Mill Co., as the Twins announced with Star Tribune and Cub Foods on Saturday that their leftover Homer Hanky inventory will be converted into cotton face masks over the coming weeks.
"When waved together by 50,000 people, the Homer Hanky is a symbol of the unity, respect and passion that define us as Minnesotans -- the same traits that will see our state through the COVID-19 crisis," said Nancy O’Brien, the Twins' vice president of community engagement in a statement. "We are beyond grateful to partner with Faribault Woolen Mill Co. and Love Your Melon to transform otherwise unused stock of this iconic item into essential, protective material for those who are bravely and selflessly working to help us all during this pandemic."
The Twins and their partners believe that each Homer Hanky can be used to create four or five protective masks. According to Paul Grangaard, the chairman and CEO of Faribault Woolen Mill Co., and Zachary Quinn, co-CEO of Love Your Melon, each company will contribute 5,000 masks in the coming weeks for a target of 10,000 in the initial run, with the possibility of more to come.
The masks will be distributed to Cub grocery workers via the Twins, and Love Your Melon will also leverage its connections with the regional medical network to deliver masks to healthcare workers at locations including M Health Fairview, the Masonic Children's Hospital, Hennepin County Medical Center and Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, according to Quinn.
Production is still in the early stages, with the process set to get underway in earnest on Monday at Faribault Woolen Mill Co., but the Twins expect to have the first batch of masks ready for delivery by the middle to the end of next week, with more robust amounts coming soon thereafter to meet the goal within the next few weeks.
"We'll be working with Love Your Melon to get those into the medical community as quickly as we can," O'Brien said via phone. "Obviously, the goal is to get them into the hands of the people that need them most, which is the front-line medical community. So we're just working to make sure we can get them done and get them done right."
Based on consultations with M Health, the masks will also include a layer of surgical wrap between the wearer and the cotton of the Homer Hanky material, which will offer moisture protection and microbial barrier protection. Love Your Melon already had a stock of surgical wrap and elastic bands for existing mask-making operations that it will be able to leverage in this partnership as well.
"What we're getting is this Homer Hanky material that's a staple of the Minnesota Twins and a great use of recycling this material into facemasks," Quinn said. "I think people will be really excited about them -- kids and families and care providers will be excited to receive them, and all of those will be through our donations."
Love Your Melon is a local apparel brand based in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis that has partnered with the Twins since 2015 to sell over 16,000 ticket packages that include its beanies. In all, it has sold more than 135,000 of those packages in their partnerships across various sports leagues, but of late, it had already dedicated a significant amount of that effort to the creation of face masks.
The company implemented a Buy One, Give One program on its masks that allows for customers to support donations to the medical community. It had already committed 50,000 masks to children and families battling cancer, but through its customers' efforts, it has been able to expand its capacity to 180,000 donated masks. It has already produced 150,000 of those masks, according to its website, and the Twins' Homer Hanky mask program fits in neatly with those operations.
"To be able to come together and support our local community at this time while everybody's facing this crisis is really inspiring and impactful to see the support that we've had come on board already for this from Faribault and other partners," Quinn said. "I think that once we launch this, we're going to see support from other local businesses and people to continue to make this successful. I think 10,000 masks is only the beginning of this. I think we'll end up making a lot more."
Faribault Woolen Mill Co. has produced blankets in the past for the Twins as a partner and has continued its operations during the pandemic as an essential business due to its role in supplying the United States military with blankets. The plans for the Homer Hanky masks have allowed it to employ several more workers from the Faribault area on a short-term basis.
"This is an incredible state and an unbelievable community," Grangaard said. "I think everybody in Minnesota wants to do whatever they can to be helpful during this crisis and to make a contribution to helping people get through it, helping us all get through it. And really, especially, the chance to be helpful to on the front lines -- healthcare workers, EMTs and the food providers, without whom we'd all starve. It's a chance to do what Minnesotans do: Come together and support this great community."