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Local crafters have homemade masks covered

by Bret Anne Serbin
Daily Inter Lake | March 29, 2020 1:00 AM

Some local crafters are going one step further to help out during the COVID-19 outbreak by creating homemade protective masks for medical workers.

The pandemic has created shortages of personal protective equipment at many hospitals and clinics around the country. While Kalispell Regional Healthcare is still reportedly well-stocked with face masks, local crafters want to get ahead of a potential shortage by supplying local health-care workers with homemade masks.

KRH launched Project PPE, an effort to amass an inventory of 10,000 protective masks, on Thursday, and the local crafting community sprang into action to help out.

“While Kalispell Regional Healthcare is fortunate to have a current supply of PPE, we know a time may come when those supplies may be significantly reduced as the situation evolves,” the hospital’s Communications and Marketing Director Mellody Sharpton said in a press release. “KRH welcomes community donations of masks (including disposable masks and locally made cloth masks), gloves and more.”

KRH is accepting sewn cotton cloth masks, 3-D printed masks and plastic face shields from community members. They have a drop-off location set up from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday at the north entrance of the Summit Medical Fitness Center at the circular drive.

Individual makers and crafting businesses in the valley have responded, with 900 masks donated on the first day of the drive.

At JOANN Fabrics in Kalispell, the store is providing free mask-making kits for crafters even while the store is closed to shoppers. The store is also serving as a collection site for the masks and coordinating donations of these products to local health-care facilities.

The local effort is part of JOANN’s nationwide initiative to use its products and clientele to supply hospitals with much-needed equipment.

“All open JOANN locations have mask kits for adults and youth, and supplies are replenished daily,” Corporate Communications Manager Shauntina Lilly said. Even though the store is currently closed to shoppers, they are still fulfilling online orders curbside and will provide mask kits to anyone who calls for them from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“This is a grassroots effort,” Lilly explained. “We made the decision to take action from a handmade perspective as we saw groups of people in the crafting and sewing communities making protective masks, gowns and other essential items and donating them to hospitals and healthcare facilities and felt like we could help them do even more.”

The masks are made of cotton and JOANN has provided instructions on how to make them at: https://www.joann.com/make-to-give-response/?icn=hpzhero&ici=make-to-give-response

While homemade masks are not medical grade, “these items are acceptable per the CDC, as we are in a time of crisis,” Lilly explained.

She said they have not yet worked out the specific partnerships with local health-care facilities. “Masks will be distributed locally, however the specific health systems have not been outlined just yet. We are reaching out to determine who is in need, and who is accepting handmade masks,” Lilly said.

Glacier Quilts is also facilitating grassroots efforts to make masks for health-care workers. While the store is closed to in-person shopping, they are still doing curbside orders and providing guidance on crafting masks at home. They suggest light-colored cotton and cloth ties. They have also ordered elastic ties, although those had not arrived by Thursday.

And the recently-formed community group Cloth Mask Makers-Flathead Valley is addressing this need for the smaller healthcare offices in the valley, such as doctors offices, emergency services and Polson hospitals. Organizer Kendra Pettry said the group of 20 seamstresses had 200 orders on Thursday and were up to 2,000 orders by Friday. The members of the varied group can make anywhere between five and twenty masks each per day. “We’re sewing away as fast as we can,” Pettry said.

She said as she saw the news of large hospitals facing shortages across the country, she started talking with healthcare administrators in the valley to see where the need was. She realized there were a lot of places besides KRH that weren’t receiving any mask donations, so she coordinated with these disparate organizations to help them restock. After they get caught up with these orders, however, they plan on donating to KRH as well.

The Quilt Gallery store has donated fabric kits, and the rest of the materials have so far come from the seamstresses’ own personal stashes. Volunteers from Youth With A Mission, where Pettry works, are assembling mask kits, fielding calls and doing all of the pick-up and drop-off for the project. Pettry said to keep this up, they are “in desperate need of more seamstreses,” as well as financial donations to gather more materials. The GoFundMe campaign for the project can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/masks-for-flathead-valley?utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_lico+share-sheet

Tutorials for at-home mask-making can be found at KRH’S project PPE website: https://www.krh.org/krhc/patients-and-visitors/covid-19-preparedness-and-updates/project-ppe

Reporter Bret Serbin may be reached at 758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.

photo

A cloth mask made by Kendra Pettry, as part of an effort to deliver thousands of masks to local healthcare workers. (Photos courtesy of Kendra Pettry)