'This is something that's bigger than basketball': Fiserv Forum opens to help distribute 2.5 million masks

NOW: ’This is something that’s bigger than basketball’: Fiserv Forum opens to help distribute 2.5 million masks

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Millions of masks will head out all over southeast Wisconsin in just a few weeks as part of the MaskUpMKE initiative.

The Milwaukee Bucks opened their arena, Fiserv Forum, to house the growing supply of kits and to speed up the delivery of face coverings in the community. 

"Some of our players have really said it best. Do they want the season to come back? Yeah. Do they want to try to be able to finish off what we started? Yeah. But people's lives are at stake. This is something that's bigger than basketball," said Milwaukee Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry.

The arena is now acting as a distribution site for 2.5 million masks. Team officials said they are glad to put the arena to good use, with face masks now replacing fans.

The team and other community partners are asking for the public's help. Volunteers can sign up to pick up kits with the mask material and rubber bands. Volunteers bring home the kits, assemble the masks and bring them back to the arena.

Each kit can make about 700 masks. About 3,500 kits containing materials to make a total of 2.5 million face coverings will be brought to the arena.

Jeannie Lehmann and her husband picked up kits Saturday morning.

"It's one way that we can help to prevent the COVID spread," she said. "We're retired people, we both have some underlying conditions and we want to make sure that people in our community stay safe."

Rebel Converting, a Saukville-based manufacturer of hospital-grade disinfectant wipes, is making and donating the face coverings.

"There's hundreds of thousands of companies that are out of business, that are struggling because of COVID-19. I'm on the other end of that," said owner Mike Kryshak. My company was busy before COVID-19. With COVID-19, since my company makes wipes, we've been growing exponentially."

The more volunteers that sign up to assemble masks, the faster the masks get to the people who need them the most.

The Medical College of Wisconsin will help determine where the masks are needed most after they're assembled and brought back to Fiserv Forum. They will be stored at the arena for several days before heading out into the community.

"There has been a devastating impact of COVID-19 in the African-American community. That impact is starting to spread to the south side at this point in time," said Zeno Franco, associate professor of family and community medicine at Medical College of Wisconsin.

Franco also wanted to remind the public that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing masks out in public.

"It's not so much right now about protecting ourselves. It's about assuming that you're already sick and protecting your neighbor," he said.

Lasry assured the community that at some point, basketball will be played again at Fiserv Forum, but he's glad the arena can be put to good use in the meantime.

"There are people who are losing their jobs, people who are getting sick and are unable to see their families. So I think basketball kind of takes a much further back seat from all of (that)," Lasry said.

Healthy individuals are invited to visit United Way’s MaskUpMKE site to sign up for a volunteer shift and schedule a time to drive by the Fiserv Forum loading dock to pick up a box of face covering kits to take home for assembly. The pick-up times take place daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. over the next two weeks starting Saturday, April 25.

Community organizations in need of face coverings can submit a request by visiting https://www.maskupmke.org/request.html.

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