ENCINITAS — Each weekend, locals and visitors flood Encinitas’ beaches, walking the line between COVID-19 safety procedures and enjoying their summer.
Packed in their beach bags and stuffed into their wetsuits are masks, or at least, based on the state’s public health orders, there should be.
Organized by Deputy Mayor Kellie Shay Hinze, the volunteer initiative has assisted the city’s Lifeguard and Marine Safety department in handing out over 10,000 masks since July 4.
According to Hinze, the project started before the holiday weekend, as regional COVID cases began spiking causing alarm and fear of impending crowds and low safety compliance seen at beach access points.
“The Acting City Manager, Jennifer Campbell let me know that the city had 10’s of thousands of masks provided for lifeguards to pass out, but the lifeguards’ main focus needed to be on the water, as that weekend there was huge surf,” Hinze said. “The morning of (July) Fourth, Jennifer took Moonlight Beach and some friends and I set up at Beacons to hand out the lifeguard’s provided masks, making sure every person who came up or down during the course of the day was wearing one.”
The masks are made of a breathable black cotton polyester blend and are American made.
“We’ve seen a lot of surfers tuck them into their wetsuits while they surf and then easily pull them out when they’re about to walk back up the trail to Beacons,” Hinze said.
Since July Fourth, the initiative has been run completely by local volunteers, often families with children, signing up for shifts each weekend from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and handing out masks to any person without one.
According to Hinze, several local families who have requested to remain anonymous, have volunteered to fund the purchase of future masks as well as a competition for a unique Encinitas themed design.
“They’ve all participated as volunteers, had a really positive experience and wanted to give back to our community in a way that increases [Coronavirus safety] by making it a part of our city’s culture,” Hinze said.
An online contest between 25 unique designs from local artists of all ages, resulted in one popular design choice, created by Encinitas native Clem Chavez.
Chavez, 33, was raised in Encinitas, where he now lives with his wife and two children.
His design includes a yellow female surfer and the text, “Help Keep Beaches Open… Mask On.”
“Masks are essential,” Chavez said. “They’re definitely the most consistent part of this entire epidemic. I work for a large company that provides sanitation and disinfectant programs for restaurants so I’m in tune with how industries are helping and the massive, most consistent part of all these [solutions] are masks.”
Chavez’s design spread on social media, shared by Kelli herself, bringing more attention to the volunteer effort.
“After the community noticed the mask design competition, word about our project grew,” Hinze said. “Suddenly, we had four times the number of people interested in volunteering because they loved the idea of a locally designed mask.”
Currently, the group only has enough volunteers to staff two beach locations, Moonlight and Beacons, for eight hours each weekend, however, Hinze would like to expand the project, noting that enough residents near Stone Steps have recently volunteered to open a third location in the near future.
“My hope is that in the future we could do a ‘mask of the month’ and could feature artists from all over the city of different ages and backgrounds portraying their Encinitas,” Hinze said.
While the city has not signed on to assist in the expanding project, Hinze said she hopes the increased attention garnered by the design contest and the group’s consistency in volunteerism, could provoke a conversation on how the city could possibly help.