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‘Godsend’ work order saves refugees’ jobs (for now) from novel coronavirus

Nell Green believes she saw God at work recently in sparing the jobs of refugee artisans employed at Threads by Nomad in Houston, Texas.

Nell Green sporting a Threads by Nomad mask

Just as the last furlough was to occur due to novel coronavirus restrictions, Green said, the state of Texas emerged with an order for thousands of non-medical grade masks needed by employees working with the public.

Green and her husband, Butch, are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel who serve among refugees in the greater Houston area. Green is co-founder of Threads, a for-profit fashion company. She also co-founded The Off Ramp, the company’s sister non-profit organization.

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“This was a godsend moment for us,” Green said of the state’s order, which will keep Threads’ expert tailors earning incomes. “When this happened, it was, like, wow.”

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Current customers for the masks are the Texas Network of Youth Services and the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services, Green said.

Nell Green

“They have a lot of folks out in the field who maybe have a cough or maybe an allergy and sneezing or a child with a runny nose,” she said. “It’s just that little added protection. In the absence of the medical masks this is better than nothing.”

However, there is uncertainty as other companies prepare to manufacture masks.

“I don’t know how long it will last, but it is a godsend for this moment,” she said.

Green spoke with Baptist News Global about the last-minute development and its impact on her company and employees. Her comments are included here, edited for brevity and clarity.

How was Threads by Nomad doing before the novel coronavirus?

We were not where we want to be, but we were making progress. We were able to keep our people employed, roll out new collections and expand the goods we curate from around the world. We employ one full-time employee and three part-time. We recently brought in a contractor who does jewelry and helps with events.

When did the company begin to shut down?

It really happened fast. We were shutting down and I told my folks we could not keep them on and that I didn’t know what we were going to do. We were not an ‘essential business.’ As soon as the coronavirus became a thing, we were about to enter our busiest time of year, other than Christmas. And within two days everything we had planned for four months was canceled. Gone. That is when I told them we were closing. That would have been between the week of March 9 to 13.

How did this unexpected work orders come about?

I have a good friend who is in anti-trafficking work and is connected to Texas government, and she called to say this need for masks might be a possibility. That was Friday night, March 20. By Saturday, end of the day, we had immediate requests for 2,000 (masks). Then we had a Zoom meeting on Sunday to iron out details to be sure we were doing everything in accordance with instructions. We started production on Sunday and have been going at it ever since.

What kind of hours are your people working?

My folks, who are working at home, cannot produce that many masks and I am not able to go out and find refugees who can do this work. So, I have a friend who works with women who have experienced some form of abuse – some of her ladies are now working with us.

Does all of this feel divinely inspired to you?

Oh, for sure. My full-time employee was beginning his furlough this week and he was saying “what am I going to do for rent?” I had no idea what we were going to do. Two of my other men tailors were with zero income. And for there to be a phone call and then to see it develop in two or three days? I would say it was God working.

What appeals are you making for donations to support this effort?

We need 100% cotton and 1/8-inch wide elastic. If they don’t have fabric, we can also take new or used 100% cotton sheets. Some people have purchased these items online and are having them sent to us. Or to offset the cost of paying our folks, we are accepting donations to The Off Ramp. We are asking that no gift cards be sent because we cannot go to stores to use them.

How does this situation compare to other disasters you have witnessed during your ministry?

There was Hurricane Harvey and we went through riots in Senegal. In those cases I was concerned for my family. In this case I am responsible for the livelihood of others. That’s what made this very different.

Monetary contributions can be made online at theofframp.org/donate. Donated items may be shipped to Nell Green at 9833 Sandra Ann Court, Houston, TX 77025.

EDITOR’S NOTE: BNG is committed to providing timely and helpful news and commentary about ways Christians and churches are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Look for the hashtag #intimeslikethese. You can also use this form to help us identify compelling stories of faith and ministry in these challenging times.

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