In mid-March, the coronavirus was just beginning to reshape life in the NRV.  No cases had yet been confirmed in the region, but many were hearing of the shortages of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare professionals.  Carol Davis, the Sustainability Manager for the Town of Blacksburg, saw a friend’s Facebook post with a simple video tutorial on how to make a mask at home.  She shared that video to the Looking Out for Each Other NRV Facebook group with the following message:

“I’m going to post here so more people can see it. If you have the supplies on hand to start making these (cotton fabric, elastic, sewing machine), then it couldn’t hurt to start. Disposable masks are already in short supply and these need to be preserved for frontline healthcare workers. Cotton masks might be urgently needed if disposable supplies are exhausted, so seems like a good idea to start community production now, even if it ends up not being needed. I’m going to try to make some tonight and will post my results (assuming my dodgy sewing machine behaves itself).” 

Within days, she was inundated with hundreds of comments, questions, and offers to help, which prompted her to create the NRV Mask Makers Facebook group on March 23.  That first day, she invited all the folks who had expressed initial interest to join the new group.  Within 2 days, there were 80 members; by the end of the first month, there were well over 500.  Those intervening weeks were a whirlwind: exhaustive online research to find the best guidance on patterns & materials, creating a form where healthcare workers and frontline community groups could submit a request for masks, developing a safe process for collection & distribution, securing donated materials, and many other logistical details.  All of this was only possible due to a handful of group members who stepped up to take lead on different critical elements: Gail Billingsley, Holly Lesko, Tracy Kwock, Anne Campbell, Jan McGilliard, Inga Haugen, and Richard Hammer. 

More recently, the NRV Mask Makers has been asked to provide more specialized elements of PPE: 3D printed face shields, disposable masks made from surgical wrap, and reusable surgical gowns.  The group now averages about 1,000 masks made and distributed each week with more volunteer seamsters coming on board each day.  While the group’s priority remains to make masks for healthcare workers and frontline community groups working on COVID response (or with vulnerable populations), the coordination team has recently decided the group’s production rate will enable them partner with Cover Up NRV and some of the region’s public schools to set up “Need A Mask, Take A Mask” stations, where community members in need can get a mask for free.  The first station was set up at Auburn Elementary School.

To support or learn more about the NRV Mask Makers please contact:

NRV Mask Makers

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