LEWISTON, N.Y. (WIVB) – As healthcare providers across the country are pleading for supplies with things like protective masks and gowns getting increasingly harder to come by, Western New Yorkers are coming together to do what they can.

And the Operation Protect Our Protectors campaign is looking for your help.

It was launched a few days ago by Peter Genovese and Jeannine Alsous. The two went to high school and college together, but hadn’t seen each other in years. Genovese was living in California when the novel Coronavirus arrived in the U.S.

“Pete actually posted. He kept posting, ‘I want to do something to help, I want to do something to help. Does anybody know where we can get masks?'” Alsous recalled. “I’m connected with a lot of fashion designers in the Buffalo area and the Rochester area and I was like ‘Hey, is there any way you can make some masks that we can potentially donate to hospitals?’ and they jumped right on board.”

Operation Protect Our Protectors grew from there.

Alsous is a creative communications specialist by trade, and Genovese is a technical project manager. Both put their professional skills to work to create a non-profit that they say they’re running more like a startup.

“I set a frame work, started white boarding, and I saw the possibilities,” Genovese said.

In 96 hours, a GoFundMe page raised thousands of dollars to buy mask-making supplies, and sewers stepped forward in big numbers to create the masks.

Designers are making how-to guides for others now to help scale up production.

And Genovese says Operation Protect Our Protectors is partnering with a Niagara County hospital which put out a plea on social media for masks. Other healthcare providers and first responders have also been reaching out to see if they can get masks.

“We are creating a distribution channel, where once we have a lot of inventory, we’re going to figure out who is on the highest priority, who only has a two day supply left,” Alsous explained.

To be clear, these masks do not offer the same level of protection as the N95 masks many hospitals have been asking for.

The Operation Protect Our Protectors team is researching ways to get the protection to that level. In the meantime, they’ll continue to create the masks they can, with spaces for N95 inserts, to help provide as much protection as they can for those on the front line in the fight against COVID-19.

“What I’m trying to do is get us better than zero because people are going to start running out,” Genovese said.

Genovese and Alsous say we all need to do our part in the fight, with Genovese comparing this moment in history to when the Greatest Generation was called to fight in World War II.

“People stood up and they were called to war. They were asked to grab guns and go over and fight,” Genovese explained. “We’re asking for you to pick up a sewing machine and fight.”

If you’d like to help sew masks, if you can donate supplies or N95 masks to be distributed, or if you know of healthcare providers or first responders who could use these home-sewn masks, you are urged to contact the Operation Protect Our Protectors group via email at operationprotectourprotectors@gmail.com

You can also use a #ProtectOurProtectors Facebook frame to help spread the word about the campaign. There’s more information about that on the Operation Protect Our Protectors Facebook page.