After Susy Carpenter’s sister-in-law, who is affiliated with the medical community, informed her of the shortage of supplies and her estimation that 1,000 N-95 protective masks per week were needed during the COVID-19 outbreak, she and her daughter Callie started sewing.
As the Carpenters worked in the attic of their home in Adna making N-95 mask covers, Susy chuckled when she disclosed the 1,000 per week figure. She knew she and Callie might not be capable of producing that many with just their operation.
That’s when Susy mentioned it wasn’t just her and Callie — 229 other sewers are working on mask covers in the Lewis County (WA) Mask Sewing Group on Facebook. The group is still seeing membership grow. The newest member joined just after 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
“I mean, if everybody made 10 a week, we’d definitely be able to supply them,” Susy said. “There’s other people in the Facebook group that are making different patterns that can be used in other ways.”
The covers, as Susy explains them, allow doctors to use the same medical mask and only change the covers. It’s done in an effort to prolong the utilization of each individual N-95 mask.
“It used to be that they had to get a whole new N-95 medical mask, you know, change it every patient,” Susy said. “This way, they can make them last.”
Other organizations in the area that have donated fabric to the cause, such as Visiting Nurses, and the Carpenters have provided fabric for others in the Facebook group to get started sewing. According to Callie, Brittany Voie, owner of Voie Hype, helps organize the group.
She said the initiative started by asking people to sign up for the 100 Million Mask Challenge, put out by Providence. According to a release, the 100 Million Mask Challenge would’ve been a state-wide initiative centered around the donation of masks.
“So that we at the local level can continue our work of focusing on our patients during the ongoing COVID-19 emergency, our larger Providence System team is partnering with another organization to implement the 100 million mask challenge across the country,” Providence said in the release.
On Monday night, though, Providence put out an update stating “local manufacturing companies” have stepped up to help with the production of the masks and they would no longer be sending out sewing kits to those interested in contributing.
Chris Thomas, Communication Sr. Manager for Providence Health & Services in Southwest Washington, said the situation was handled at the company’s system level.
“The local manufacturing company … that was a furniture company up north somewhere,” Thomas said. “That was all coordinated by our system office, so we didn’t really have anything to do with it locally.”
He mentioned Providence has a list of about 200 people who have offered to help in Southwest Washington. Still, he’s telling those people to “please hold” on making the masks until he and other members of the Providence staff can put together a list of approved supplies.
Due to regulations on equipment used in hospitals, he said they still can’t accept anything homemade as of Tuesday.
“So we’re, again, just asking (people) to please hold on and wait for the official list of supplies and the pattern from us,” Thomas said. “When we do get that all approved, then we will reach back out to those folks that we’re keeping on the list.”
For those who are looking to be added to the list, Thomas said they can email Providence’s Volunteer Services Manager Merrit Reed at email@example.com. He said those on the list will be contacted individually if a list of supplies becomes available.
Thomas called the response by the community “unbelievable” and praised its willingness to help. Meanwhile, Callie and Susy said the masks they make will still be going to those who need them even if they can’t go to Providence. They currently have two drop boxes set up at Sister’s Quilt Shop in Chehalis and Whalen Quilt Works in Centralia.
“Now, what we’re asking, is any hospitals or caregivers in our local community that have a need for (mask covers), if they DM (direct message) us on the (Facebook) group, we can basically make a list of everybody and (distribute them),” Callie said. “We have drop box points at the two quilt shops and my mom and I will be going and checking in, like everyday, to pick up whatever donations there are.”
Their first collection took place on Monday at 4:30 p.m. The boxes will be out for donations from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday moving forward.
Callie said anyone can be involved, whether they’re proficient sewers or not. She said they can reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with donations.
“This is the challenge for Lewis County,” Callie said. “Other places have seamstresses and quilters, but our area has so many people that sew, I really think if anyone’s going to be able to make a large amount (of masks), it’s going to be us. I think it’s really perfect for our area.”