HEROES UNMASKED: 400 N95 masks donated to Emergency Mgmt.

Noel Duffing always willing to help others

BALDWIN -- With shortages of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) being experienced all over the country since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Noel Duffing took the initiative to do something about it.

Duffing, a lifelong resident of Baldwin, along with the help of friend, Jamie Bates, was able to procure 400 N95 masks, which were donated to Lake County Emergency Management.

"No one was doing anything at the time, and I thought it would be nice to do that," Duffing said. "I knew somebody that could help me with it, so we got together and worked it out."

That somebody was Bates.

Bates, who grew up in Luther, but now lives in Dallas, Texas, said she had been watching what was happening in China and other parts of the world.

"Before it was being called a pandemic, I started purchasing hand sanitizer and cleaners, to the point my husband thought I was crazy," Bates said. "It was not even being publicized yet, but I thought 'why wouldn't it happen here.'"

Bates works in the wholesale car business in Dallas and her company does a lot of paint and body work where they use masks.

"I buy masks all the time, so I started stocking up where I could," she said. "I researched online where to get them and saw that the price was already fifty percent higher than normal. I went to a local paint and body shop where I usually buy them and they had four masks left, so I bought them for $1.99 each."

She then started looking around at other places to buy them, she said. She found a local shop that had several boxes of them for $8 per box and decided to purchase all of them.

"I had about 1000 masks, along with the hand sanitizer and cleaners, so I started putting together care packages to send to family and friends," Bates said. "At the time, they didn't understand what I was doing.

"I didn't know what I was going to do with the rest of the masks," she added. "That's when I spoke to Duffy about them. He made some phone calls and organized the donation to Lake County Emergency Management."

Duffing said his friend had the foresight to see what was coming and was well prepared.

"She had a stockpile of masks," he said. "I told her we could use some up here, and she was willing to let us have some. We gathered around 400 masks and sent them directly to the Lake County Emergency Management office."

If not for Duffy, and his efforts, this would never had happened, Bates said.

"He made the phone calls to see who was in need of masks, and he organized the donation to Lake County," she said.

"I saw there was a need," Duffing said. "Someone had to do something. I just figured it was the right thing to do.

"I don't want a pat on the back," he said. "They needed masks, and I knew where to get them."

"He saw a need and had the foresight to be able to obtain masks for the community," Bates said. "He organized it all on his own, before the shortages even became apparent. Him not wanting to take credit for it shows where his heart is."

Lake County Emergency Management director Patrick Maddox said the masks are extremely important to the first responders and essential workers to keep the community safe and continue critical infrastructure operations in the county.

"We were fortunate to have an existing stockpile, but in addition to that, the donations have been very important to supplement our needs," Maddox said. "We have been extremely blessed to be able to provide this critical PPE to those in need."

Duffing grew up in Baldwin and has lived there his entire life. He has worked as a barber there for 57 years, at the same barber shop his grandfather once owned. The shop is currently closed due to the coronavirus shut down orders.

"I enjoy it because I enjoy talking to people and meeting new people," Duffing said. "I'm just going crazy right now, but there is not much I can do about it. It's better to stay away. I'm just ready for this all to be over."

Bates, said although she now lives in Dallas, her heart is in Lake County.

"Duffy is like a celebrity in Baldwin," she said. "I wanted him to be the spotlight of the story, because he is so deserving in many ways, not just for this, but for everything he has always done for others.

"He is a good friend of mine, and has helped me out many times, she added. "He's just the kindest person, and so humble."

Bates said Duffing has always been willing to help other out when needed.

"During the severe storms a couple of summers ago, he helped deliver food to storm victims in Baldwin," she said. "He is always there to help, if someone is in need.

"My favorite quote from him is, 'I'm no superhero, I'm just a barber from Baldwin,'" she added.

Maddox said they can always use additional masks, and if anyone would like to donate surgical or N95 masks, they would be happy to take them and put them to good use.

Donations can be dropped off at 1100 Michigan Ave., Baldwin, or call (231) 745-6205 to coordinate a pick up.