Swanson masks

Jason and Laura Swanson cut fabric to make masks for area hospitals as part of a group organized by Peace Lutheran Church in Dresser, Wisc. 

 

Local groups make masks for essential workers

If you laid every facemask sewed by ‘Covered with Care’ from end to end starting at the front door of the Osceola Medical Center, you could make it all the way around the building and back inside before you ran out. 

The community organization started making masks for healthcare workers and other essential employees in late March and has now donated over 5,000 masks to those who need them most. 

The group is made up of women and men from both sides of the St. Croix Valley and is managed by Denise Douglass of Saint Croix Falls, Wisc. Douglass is what is known as a Chinese medicine doctor, who studied traditional Chinese medicinal techniques like acupuncture, herbal medicine and medical message. These and other practices are called ‘Qigong,’ and Douglass’ background in them made her aware of COVID-19 long before most Americans. 

“My school of training in the US started to get really desperate pleas for masks from Chinese colleagues in the first week in February,” she said. “And then I watched this travel around the world with growing concern.” 

On March 12 Douglass shut down her office in St. Croix Falls and wellness clinic in Edina, Minn. and 

“I was thinking how we could do better,” she said. “And the words of John Kennedy kept coming to mind.” 

The former president’s famous “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” inaugural address stuck in Douglass’ head. She started thinking about what she could do to help, when a nurse Douglass knows mentioned St. Croix Regional Medical Center was short of masks. 

Douglass called a few friends who sewed professionally and created a Facebook page to help organize the effort.  They gathered supplies and set out to create a community of sewers to help the short-supplied hospitals in the area. 

Douglass and her crew created mask kits and made them available to pick up for any sewers who were interested. Volunteers would pick up the kits, put them together and return them to a drop off point without ever having to come in close physical contact with anyone. Each kit is capable of making 10 masks and Douglass’ group made 250 kits initially. When those were gone, they made another 180 kits, plus 45 kits that only included the elastic pieces that are so essential to masks but are in such short supply. She also estimates they’ve received 500-800 masks from community sewers who didn’t pick up kits but used their own materials. 

They’ve supplied masks to St. Croix Regional Medical Center, Osceola Medical Center and Amery Hospital, as well as area nursing homes, grocery stores and other essential businesses. Douglass is managing the group, but said it’s the women sewing and donating supplies who deserve the credit. 

“I’ve done some organizing in the past,” she said. “And I’m a much better organizer than I am a sewer.” 

 ‘Covered with Care’ is only one of many organizations in the area that has taken up mask making. Sonya Sampson is a member of Peace Lutheran Church in Dresser, Wisc. who has also formed an organization to help make and donate masks. Their process has been much the same as ‘Covered with Care.’ They made kits and established a pick up and drop off location at the church. 

“It’s working out that we don’t have to have human contact,” Sampson said. “We’re just getting this mission accomplished outside of the building.” 

Peace Lutheran has donated to St. Croix Regional Medical Center and Osceola Medical Center, but has also given masks to Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, Minn. 

Sampson has been sewing since she was very young and runs a custom sewing and alterations business in addition to her full-time job as the manager of Treasures from the Heart in Osceola, Wisc. 

“This time of year I’m typically doing prom dresses and wedding gowns,” she said. “But there’s not as much of a need for that right now.” 

Much of the material for the masks has been crowd-sourced. 

“People have been digging through their sewing stash and their craft rooms and finding things,” she said. “Every couple of days someone will drop off fabric or elastic on my front step.” 

Sampson and her group hasn’t run into supply shortages yet, but has had to think outside the box in order to keep making masks. 

“It’s been a very creative process,” she said. “All the craft and fabric store ran out of elastic immediately. So we’ve been doing everything from cutting elastic off of fitted sheets to using hair binders. Everybody has a little stash of something they haven’t used in years, so they seem to be cleaning out the corners right now.” 

Sampson said each mask takes about five minutes to sew. It’s not at all a complicated process, and she encourages anyone with a sewing machine to join the cause and help out. 

“If you’re set up to sew and you’ve got a machine that’s working for you,” she said. “They’re a piece of cake.” 

The medial centers in the area have all expressed their gratitude to the groups doing the sewing. Matt Forge, the CEO of Osceola Medical Center said the donated masks make a big difference. 

“These masks have been incredibly helpful and fit right in with the safety measures we’ve implemented,” he said. “These wonderful people are not only helping us here, but they’re also helping our neighbors at home who may use them during the course of this pandemic.” 

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