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Entrepreneur donates 2 million masks in Roxbury

Westnet CEO distributes PPE to local institutions

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Entrepreneur donates 2 million masks in Roxbury
Westnet CEO Gordon Thompson unloads masks at the Whittier Street Health Center. BANNER PHOTO

When local community activists approached Gordon Thompson to supply masks to local communities, the CEO of the medical supply company Westnet didn’t hesitate.

Last week, his trucks showed up at local health centers and churches with boxes containing 2 million masks, ready to be deployed in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. Speaking to a gathering at Roxbury’s Whittier Street Health Center last week, Thompson seemed to downplay the significance of the donation.

“We have a holiday season coming where we know there’s a possibility there will be more congestion in indoor spaces,” he said. “This is what Westnet is supposed to do.”

Miniard Culpepper, Michael Curry Gordon Thompson, Frederica Williams and Keith Motley at the Whittier Street Health Center. BANNER PHOTO

Thompson started Westnet in 1994 and has grown the Canton-based firm into the nation’s largest Black-owned distributor of medical supplies, serving hospitals and life sciences firms. Westnet is a major supplier to purchasers including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Harvard University, Partners Healthcare and Boston Medical Center.

His firm has also supplied smaller nonprofits, including the Whittier Street Health Center.

“They share our commitment to diversity and high-quality services,” said Whittier Street CEO Frederica Williams.

The donation of masks comes as COVID-19 cases are rising in Massachusetts. The seven-day average positive test rate was 3.04% as of Nov. 17, slightly lower than the 3.5% rate the state registered last year before the number of infections surged last winter.

In Boston, a citywide indoor mask mandate remains in effect, in keeping with guidance given by Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president.

The masks Westnet is donating will be distributed through community health centers, churches, senior facilities, local businesses and public housing locations.

The distribution was already underway last Wednesday, when Thompson and others gathered at Whittier Street Health Center, where they helped unload several boxes of masks. Westnet trucks were also headed to the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts’ Warren Street building, the Boys & Girls Club, Rosie’s Place women’s shelter, the Morgan Memorial Goodwill building and the Suffolk County House of Correction.

Michael Curry, president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, said Westnet has helped many local health centers through the COVID pandemic.

“Early in the pandemic, health centers were trying to find personal protective equipment,” he said. “We were trying to deal with supply chain issues. Westnet helped. When there was a crisis, they stepped up and said, ‘This is what the community needs.’”

Miniard Culpepper, pastor of the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, said he and 25 other pastors similarly reached out to Thompson for masks last year.

“He said, ‘What do you need?’” Culpepper recalled. “The following Monday, a Westnet truck showed up and dropped off 15,000 masks and hand sanitizer. At that time, masks and hand sanitizer were like gold.”

At Whittier Street, Thompson said the mask distribution is part of the mission of his business. While the donation is costly, he said, it is in keeping with his aim of helping the community in which he grew up.

“I’m not going to say 2 million masks isn’t significant,” he told the gathering at Whittier Street. “But it would be significant if we didn’t do this.”