Refoundry retools efforts to protect people behind bars from COVID-19

Posted at 7:24 PM, Jul 20, 2020

Refoundry helps give formerly incarcerated people a second chance. Now they’re giving back in a special way, helping protect people behind bars during the pandemic.

Refoundry's mission is giving people a second chance by providing skills and opportunity. The nonprofit, created by Cisco Pinedo and Tommy Safian, trains formerly incarcerated people to repurpose discarded materials into home furnishings. Their program is structured into three stages over the period, starting off with placement in a living wage job ending with mentorship that could lead to business ownership.

So far, 10 businesses have started with the help of Refoundry, giving jobs to more than 125 people.

Back in 2016, Scripps station WPIX in New York visited Refoundry in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Now, they’re adding another effort to their outreach as a result of the pandemic and putting the Refoundry onsite program on hiatus during the lockdown.

"We launched something called ‘Makers Make Masks,’ that enlists formerly incarcerated people that are homebound because of the pandemic to help combat a public health crisis by sewing reusable washable masks for the most vulnerable people in our society the incarcerated and the homeless," explained Safian.

The masks are being donated to homeless support services in Los Angeles and at Rikers Island in New York, where more than 850 masks have already been delivered.

The Refoundry set up 20 formerly incarcerated workers with sewing machines, pre-cut fabrics, technical support and training with the help of grants and donations.

“This allows… people with the opportunity to demonstrate their value,” explained Safian “to themselves and to their community and to society ... it really does mean a lot."

Once the pandemic is over, Refoundry plans on launching a second location Los Angeles and moving into a new space at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Safian said they expect to have around 45 formerly incarcerated people training at each location when they relaunch.

Click here for more information on how you can help support Refoundry and their "Makers Make Masks" program.

This article was written by Tamsen Fadal and Juan Carlos Molina for WPIX.