When a request was posted March 23 on the Neighbors Helping Neighbors-Barron County Facebook site about Marshfield Clinic Health System’s need for masks made from 100% cotton and flannel, sewing machines around the county began humming.
Since then hundreds of colorful masks have been made and donated, and the army of crafters are just getting started.
Christina Dickman-Loew, coordinator of the MCHS Foundation, said she is amazed by that quick response from county residents and encourages more to join the effort and keep them coming.
“It’s anticipated that we’ll need tens of thousands of these fabric masks,” she said in a phone call Friday.
Dickman-Loew added that an elastic shortage at this time is forcing people to get creative on the homemade creations.
So far there are three drop-off sites for the fabric masks—in Rice Lake at Marketplace Foods’ liquor store, in Chetek at KJ’s Fresh Market, and in Ladysmith at the Ladysmith Fresh Market.
The foundation spokesman said the fabric masks are sanitized, then given to all visitors and low-risk patients at all MCHS sites.
She said that allows the personal protection equipment, known as PPE, to be triaged to “clinicians” or those who work on site.
Polly Wolner has spearheaded the Rice Lake mask-making effort. She puts out calls for help and updates on the Neighbors Helping Neighbors-Barron County Facebook page. Her post on Friday said, “We have our kits distributed and being made right now. Thankful! Walmart has been willing to GIVE us unlimited amounts of 100% cotton and flannel. We are on a stop for now and maybe April we can get more.
“I would really appreciate any of your 100% cotton donated and any flannel that isn’t black donated. And of course we are looking for elastic!”
Wolner said Monday that “Walmart managers have been incredibly generous. We were able to get our program off the ground because they were so willing to donated the unlimited materials we need to get going. That willingness got us off the ground.”
As of Monday, Wolner had approximately 56 people in various aspects of mask making—people cutting washing and ironing the material; people putting together packets on how to make the masks, people who do the sewing, and runners made up of National Honor Society students who are gaining community service hours by delivering materials while practicing social distancing by leaving them on stoops or hanging on door knobs.
To help out in any way, contact Wolner on social media, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send her at text at 715-205-1611.
Wolner said, “Our biggest need right now and probably going forward is elastic. We can use anything under a 1/2 inch. We are accepting masks with ties, but those are not ideal.”
She assures, “We practice social distancing in all areas of our process.”
At Chetek and elsewhere
Meanwhile Sandra Gunderson is spearheading the mask making effort in Chetek.
“I said I would love to help with contacting people to help with the sewing,” Gunderson said. “I have quilting ladies at my church, Chetek Lutheran, so I called seven ladies to see if they would like to help with this project. They all agreed they would be very happy to help out.”
Gunderson added, “Polly called me when she had the fabric and elastic ready for the mask kits. My husband and I picked them up from Polly. Arlan and I took them back to Chetek to the church parking lot, laid the kits out on the end gates of the pick up, and the ladies met up and picked up what they felt they could sew. We all kept our social distance from each other.”
Dickman-Loew, foundation coordinator, said while some donations of masks, gloves and othr supplies are being made with requests for anonymity, she recognized the local Arrowhead and Sather dental clinics for donating masks and Nail U Boutique salon for donating gloves.
She said other efforts are underway in Marshfield for the sewing of gowns and making of plastic face shields.