Jan 10th, 2022
🌟 Project Northern Lights 🌟
Connecting makers, resources and communities
Q&A With Project Northern Lights (PNL)
OSMS: What is PNL?
PNL: PNL started as a grassroots COVID response focusing on getting homemade PPE to community health centers, retirement communities, homeless shelters, and other groups that had not previously been the focus of COVID PPE efforts within the GTA. As we grew and as COVID went on longer, we expanded our operations to provide PPE across Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia. Over the past year and a half that we have been an active nonprofit, we have donated over 120,000 units of PPE, health supplies, and sanitizer to historically marginalized and sidelined communities across Canada to keep them safe and healthy during the pandemic. We have additionally grown to partner with multiple national and multinational operations to expand from homemade PPE into licensed and donated medical supplies. Now, as COVID draws to a close, we look forward to working with our communities to determine what they next need to keep themselves safe and supported.
OSMS: How did PNL begin?
PNL: At the start of the pandemic in North America, while everyone was stuck at home, a few of our founding members were trying to find ways to fix the PPE shortage problem by engineering solutions that could be made from readily available materials. In those early days, there was a lot of conversation and innovation as ideas were passed all around the world, but for Canada in particular, not much discussion around how these solutions could be distributed to the communities that need them most. Project Northern Lights branched out from the maker community and tasked itself with a mission to ensure every single person in Canada could get equal access to the means to protect themselves by focusing on made-marginalized communities and individuals first.
OSMS: What are some of the most radically awesome things you’ve seen with PNL?
PNL: This community has seemingly attracted some of the most passionate, down-to-earth, and dedicated people. Naturally we have become more of a family than anything else, as we have relied on each other during a time of both global and personal crisis. There is a special kind of bonding that has taken place, a rare form of relationship that has been facilitated by the internet. We know each other so well, and yet most of us have never met face-to-face!
OSMS: What have been PNL’s biggest challenges?
PNL: As a young nonprofit, particularly one that focuses on communities and demographics that aren’t at the top of the public’s mind or hearts at the moment, being able to maintain funding for our efforts has been a continual challenge, particularly as the supply chain issues worldwide have made PPE and medical supplies cost more while we are trying to provide relief free of charge. It’s also been a rewarding challenge to learn how to have a functioning, remote-only workspace that spans such a large geographical area. By emphasizing communication, self-care, and teamwork, we’ve made it work!
OSMS: How has PNL worked effectively throughout the pandemic?
PNL: It took some time to refine our process, but we have successfully integrated a number of online tools that allow us to communicate and collaborate effectively. More importantly, we have a “self-care first” philosophy, which we use to ensure that our members can step away from PNL to
OSMS: How has lockdown affected the communities PNL works with?
PNL: The communities we’ve donated to and work with almost universally pre-COVID had some level of difficulty accessing the resources and supplies that they needed. Particularly during the initial phases of the pandemic, this meant that these communities were nearly entirely left out in the cold as access to public spaces and people that they may have relied on for sanitation, food, care, or other quality-of-life items were suddenly inaccessible to them. Additionally, many of the communities we worked with suffered disproportionately from COVID, both in terms of rates of infection and rates of mortality. Despite this, these communities were still sidelined during most COVID relief efforts (particularly at first), which only widened the gap.
OSMS: What impact has PNL made in our communities?
PNL: PNL’s donations of PPE and medical supplies have helped to protect dozens of communities throughout the various phases of the pandemic. This has included providing PPE to allow community health centers to provide care, providing PPE and sanitizers to groups without consistent access to sanitation, replacing faulty or damaged PPE in rural areas, and providing PPE and sanitation equipment for rural vaccination efforts.
OSMS: How did PNL get involved with the NHL?
PNL: RESOLVE, an NGO that originally connected us with the OSMS Mothership, was one of our first official partners as a nonprofit. As a longstanding multinational NGO, they’ve helped connect us to numerous opportunities within their network, this being one of them. Richard, one of our close collaborators at RESOLVE, was made aware of the grant opportunity from the CDC and NHL Foundations, and generously brought us into the fold as their partner on this grant. This was an incredible opportunity for us to scale up in a new way that enabled us to deliver over 35,000 units of PPE.
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