A local CEO is flagging down front-line workers to give them masks

Jon Gurman's company, M4SKARMY, makes and sells masks. Gurman and his daughter, Raquel Gurman handed out masks to employees at Residence Angelica in Montreal on Monday June 1, 2020. Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette ORG XMIT: 64506

Don’t be alarmed if you see a U.S. Army jeep driving around the streets of Montreal.

It’s just JCorp co-CEO and Montreal-born Jon Gurman on his way to hand out face masks to front-line workers.

Since the health-care crisis began, Gurman has made a habit of driving around the city in his jeep, a 1953 relic from the Korean War, and handing out masks on a four-foot-long metal pole to delivery drivers, cabbies, nurses and doctors.

“I go and chase them down,” Gurman said. “People see me in this jeep, and they’re amused by it, so they stop to talk to me.”

To date, he has given away 50,000 masks manufactured by his company M4SK Army (pronounced Mask Army). He says it’s his way to show gratitude to those putting themselves at risk during the current health-care crisis.

“I got the idea one day when I was outside the Jewish General Hospital and watching all these taxi drivers dropping off patients,” Gurman said. “I thought to myself: ‘These taxi drivers are really taking a risk.’ That’s how this all started.”

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Back in March, Gurman gave away several hundred masks to Champlain Taxi to outfit the company’s drivers and their customers.

He also branded more than 100 masks with the Jewish General Hospital logo and gave them to a doctor there to hand out to staff — not to replace the government-sanctioned protective equipment, but rather to help limit the transmission of the virus outside the hospital.

“People were very grateful to have them. It gave a sense of community, which was really appreciated,” said Albert Cohen, the head of gastroenterology at the hospital. Cohen received close to 1,000 masks and has distributed nearly all of them. He said he’s going to ask Gurman for some more.

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Last Monday, Gurman took his jeep to Résidence Angelica, a CHSLD in Montreal North. A few minutes after he arrived, dozens of employees lined up in the parking lot to wait for the masks.

“These are the people who are caring for really sick patients,” Gurman said. “It was really gratifying for me to be able to give back to them and make them happy.”

While Gurman enjoys giving away his masks for free to health-care workers, mask manufacturing has become a big business for him. Gurman said he only ever intended masks to be an add-on product to his existing clothing brand for the online gaming community called H4X (pronounced Hacks).

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“It was back in November, I saw that a lot of Asian gamers (were buying H4X products) and I felt that masks were going to become a trend, so we started working on a prototype for masks back then,” he said.

Gurman said he created the M4SK Army brand to respond to the health-care crisis. The company sold masks to Coca-Cola and Burger King in the U.S. and the masks were custom made to match the uniforms of their employees. In Montreal, Franklin Empire purchased masks from Gurman’s company.

The M4SK Army consumer products are intended to be fashion accessories and conversation pieces as well as protective gear. They are adorned with zebra and leopard prints, or logos with messages like “Canada Strong,” and “If you are reading this, you are too close.”

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The masks sell at Jean Coutu, Giant Tiger, Walmart and Ardene, among other retailers.

“Masks are a booming business for us right now,” Gurman said. “I think when I started doing masks, I was one of the first ones to make cloth, washable masks in North America, and if we hadn’t started so early, I’m not sure we would be doing this now.”

While it seems like a given that a mask company would flourish in the current climate, it wasn’t obvious back when M4SK Army began operations. Gurman said at the time, “people weren’t biting.”

“Then when it all closed down, and public health officials were telling people they’re going to have to buy masks, everybody called me back,” Gurman said.

The company has sold roughly 1.5 million masks at this point, Gurman said.



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