NAGOYA--Thousands of rejected free face masks that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered to send to every household in Japan are finding their way to those that want them, thanks to a group of medical and nursing care operators here.

The Nagoya Koreisha Mimamori Network, or Mimamo Nagoya, has been flooded with donations of the protective gear, which critics have dubbed the "Abenomask."

Abenomasks account for 90 percent of all masks that Mimamo Nagoya has received, totaling 3,000 packages of two, the group said.

Donations have even come from Kanto, Kansai, Kyushu and other distant regions, Mimamo Nagoya said.

The government is working to send a total of 60 million sets of two cloth masks to all households.

The project, a pillar of Abe's package of measures to counter the novel coronavirus, has been sharply criticized for wasting taxpayers' money since the once dire shortage of masks has now eased to some extent.

The Kyowa pharmacy outlet in Nagoya's Showa Ward on May 15 started accepting mask donations as part of the Mimamo Nagoya project.

On May 29, the pharmacy's staff sorted, examined and packaged contributed masks for delivery to nursing care facilities, establishments for disabled individuals and elsewhere.

Many people stopped in to drop off unwanted government-supplied masks.

"I made masks for my family, so I don’t need the government ones," said a 48-year-old woman, who lives nearby and donated her Abenomasks.

The operator of Kyowa pharmacy set up mask collection boxes at 86 outlets in Aichi, Mie, Gifu and Shizuoka prefectures. The boxes will accept unopened, unused masks until June 30 irrespective of whether they are from the government or not.

"I even saw someone snap a selfie in front of the collection box," said Yuki Ikeda, Mimamo Nagoya’s vice president. "We received a lot more donations than I ever expected.”

The masks will be delivered to 10 or so facilities, including an institute that provides health-related advice to local elderly residents in Inabe, Mie Prefecture.

"Extra masks are essential during a hot season," an institute representative said. "It’s difficult for some people to buy masks on their own. We’ll deliver masks to those who need them."

(This article was written by Masahiro Iwao and Atsushi Takahara.)