ELEVATE PPE Donation: A Beacon of Light During Troubling Times

By TaShonda Vincent-Lee, Director of Community Outreach at ELEVATE Northeast

To say that 2020 has been troubling times would be an understatement. As a nation, we’re grappling with almost a quarter-million COVID-19 related deaths, a national economy that’s experiencing its sharpest decline since the government began keeping records in 1947, and civil unrest and mounting protests due to multiple police killings of unarmed black citizens.

At ELEVATE Northeast, we understand that when the majority of the world catches a cold, traditionally underserved communities develop pneumonia. With so much adversity, many in need are desperately seeking a tiny sliver of light amidst the darkness: Insert ELEVATE NE’s latest “do good, for the good” support initiative – National Expungement Week (N.E.W.). This year our organization partnered with Cage-Free Repair to educate the New England region on their legal rights, record expungement and sealing opportunities, and to connect justice-involved individuals with wraparound support services.

Every activity from our “Know Your Rights” social media campaign, to “Standing in the Gap: The Re-Entry Conversation” collaboration with BCW (Boston Cannabis Week) National Expungement Week Panel seemed to spark a little light of relief and support for returning citizens.

Our most recent PPE donation to Everyday Miracles Peer Recovery Support Center in Worcester, MA was another N.E.W. initiative. The purpose of the donation was not only to support justice-involved individuals with basic safety needs, but to also support and highlight the essential value of MWBEs (Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises).

Research shows that during times of economic downturns, it’s our small businesses that keep the economy going. Data also shows minority-owned businesses historically face more barriers, particularly as it pertains to access to capital. Such disparities are proving to be even greater during a pandemic when access to relief funds are critical to the continued operations of smaller businesses and organizations facing increased costs and program needs. Equipped with this information, ELEVATE Northeast intentionally decided to solicit the services of a small minority-owned company when looking for masks for the N.E.W. PPE donation effort. This is how we found IB Designs.

IB Designs is a small sewing and interior design company located in Maryland, owned and operated by Inez Branch. Being in operation since the late 1990s, Ms. Branch has experienced both the woes of economic downturns and the splendor of a thriving economy. However, she’s also, unfortunately, had a bird’s eye view of the growing disparities and needs of underserved communities. This experience and understanding are what have driven her to give back to her community in good times and in bad.

A seamstress since she was a teenager, Ms. Branch shared how she long ago identified the power in having the ability to dress nicely and decorate your environment. “You can be poor and live in a lower-income neighborhood, but a person just feels better when they look nice and feel comfortable in their environment. When an individual feels good about themselves, they can find the power to transcend any circumstance,” she explained. IB Designs defines success not only in the number of orders filled or jobs completed but in the number of people they help.

For many years, Ms. Branch has provided services to those in need and has met her clients where they were financially by providing sliding scale services. “It’s not that I’m wealthy and can afford to give everything away, but I’m blessed. So, I just try to help people where I can.” Talk about Corporate Social Responsibility being a core value! Ms. Branch takes things to a new level. She’s designed and sewed custom-made prom dresses for fiscally challenged and plus-sized girls at low cost. She’s decorated homes in lower-income communities on little-to-nothing budgets, transforming these home environments from bare and bleak to warm and inviting.

True to nature, when ELEVATE Northeast approached IB Designs to make washable reusable masks for returning citizens, Ms. Branch was excited to help. She was not only happy to design these custom masks, but also discounted both her services and the cost for materials. “It feels good to be able to use my talent to help keep the most vulnerable among us safe and healthy during these times,” said Ms. Branch.

ELEVATE Northeast and National Expungement Week cannot thank IB Designs enough for their compassionate and high-quality work. Together we were able to make a small ripple in the sea of change and hope to partner again to continue to shine the light of hope for communities in need.

Check out some pictures below, and contact [email protected] with any questions!

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