Free masks are on display in the front window of Agora Vintage, a boutique in downtown Athens, on Sept. 2, 2020 in Athens, Georgia. Store owner, Airee Edwards, buys the masks from Tia Cox, a woman in Tennessee who is unable to work due to COVID-19 and now makes and sells masks. Edwards buys the masks in bulk, giving them away to Athens’ local businesses and anyone who asks. “I just want everyone to feel safe and have one if they need one or cannot afford one,” said Edwards. (Photo/Caroline Head, chead@randb.com)

Agora Vintage, a vintage apparel store in downtown Athens, teamed up with one of its customers, Tia Cox, who was able to provide thousands of masks to the store. Cox originally started to sell masks as a hobby to keep her friends and family safe.

Cox eventually reached out to Airee Edwards, co-owner of Agora Vintage, and was able to sell her thousands of masks for Agora Vintage to give to the Athens community for free. 

“One thing led to another, and I found myself getting messages from people I didn’t even know,” Cox said. “I was even seeing my masks on social media.”

After seeing various charities doing similar work, Cox was inspired to donate her masks to other organizations, which transitioned her work from a hobby to a business. Cox donated to hospices after she witnessed caretakers comfort her boyfriend’s mother during her stay in a hospice, she said.

Today, Edwards showcases these masks in the store and gives them away for free, but she also accepts donations for the masks so she can continue to buy more.

The masks are displayed at the front of Agora Vintage and the suggested donation is $10-15 which is all put toward buying more masks from Cox, Edwards said.

“The masks are high-quality, reusable and have an additional liner to use a separate filter after washing them,” Edwards said. “It was important to us that we get them out to the community but still make sure they’re good quality masks too.”

Airee Edwards’ husband, Russell Edwards, teamed up with each other to spread the word about Agora’s mask initiative. Russell Edwards is a District 7 commissioner and co-hosts the radio show “Reppin’ Georgia” with state representative Spencer Frye to promote the masks as well.

While Cox currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee, she wanted to team up with the Edwards family to contribute to the community as businesses were closing all around Athens.

“With people going back to work and students coming back, we realized that more and more people will need masks,” Airee Edwards said. “Athens is such a loving community, and we just want to return that support.”

Both Cox and the Edwards family want to ensure the masks are fashionable and available to children as well. They noticed the kids wearing these masks did not become frustrated by the size or the fit and wanted to wear them more.

“Looking back, it just made sense and made me feel like I was giving back to those who have not only helped in tough times but have always been there,” Cox said. “Donating masks seem like a small gesture in the big picture, but it was something I could do and the opportunity was right in front of me.”

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