Volunteers throughout Interior Alaska are sitting down at their sewing machines and making face masks to donate to help limit spread of COVID-19.
It’s an opportunity to feel like they are contributing to stemming the spread of the virus.
“I’m excited to actually be able to do something,” said Sheri Martin of Fairbanks. “I’ve been just sitting here, not being able to do anything.”
She first heard about the possibility of helping this way, from her sister in Oregon, who operates a hospice there. It seemed like a good fit for Fairbanks too. Others agreed and there is now a Fairbanks Mask Makers Facebook page, sharing information about how to make masks and how to deliver them to those who need them — including Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
“They have to be breathable and they have to be comfortable,” Martin said. “Because if you make them too hot, nobody will wear them.”
She makes masks using two layers of cotton and also adds a very then layer of thin fusible backing. The masks, she said, are really comfortable. It has been fun choosing fabric for the masks.
“I have all this material, so I’m picking out masculine patterns, fun patterns, ladybugs, kid patterns,” she said.
She makes three different sizes. One is adult size with two different lengths of elastic. She also makes a children’s size. She already has 130 masks to donate and intends to deliver them washed and dried, in plastic bags touched only by gloved hands.
“The heat is what is going to kill the virus,” she said. “At least I know I am giving them sanitized. They will take it from there.”
People who want to help make masks can connect with this Facebook group for details on how to deliver to those who need them.
“We’d like to thank folks for all their support too,” said Foundation Health Partners CEO Shelley Ebenal on Monday. “The community has come through in droves wanting to make donations, make masks, make shields. We are so grateful for that support. Keep it coming.”
It continues to evolve daily, she said on Tuesday.
“We just got news before the press conference that a nurse in our facility has been working on a CDC compliant plan with surgical wrap. More to come on that. But as soon as we do, we will be releasing that to the public so that they can help. But all help is always appreciated. Right now if people are making masks, we don’t need them medically at the moment but we would be willing to use those for the public so thank you so much for the support and please keep sewing,” she added.
In the Denali Park area, volunteers are focusing on making and distributing the masks locally. Some have already been delivered to the clinic in Nenana. This project is newly launched, so volunteers are thinking masks could be useful for the local volunteer fire departments, Three Bears grocery employees, postal service employees, food delivery workers, gas station attendants and others.
“We just started today,” said Kim Gebauer, a nurse who lives in the local area.
Her suggestion for sanitizing is to run the masks through a very hot dryer after sanitizing with 1/3 cup bleach/1 gallon water solution at home.
She hopes local volunteers will join this effort.
According to one mask maker, JoAnn Fabrics plans to provide kits for people to take home and make their own face masks.
“I was in town yesterday and stopped in and they don’t have theirs ready to distribute yet,” said Susan Wright of Denali Park. “So I went to find some elastic by the yard and they were completely sold out on account of that silent undertow of little old ladies humming away at their sewing machines looking out for the greater good.”
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.