Making Masks: The Home Industry Grows

By Linda Lane

Nearly 40,000 masks have been made by area residents sewing them in craft rooms in their homes. And that’s probably an undercount: Many other masks –thousands of them – haven’t been factored into that number.

One group on Facebook, called SWMI Protective Gear Project, counts more than 1,800 members. As of May 29, the group had collected and distributed 37,714 face masks in Kalamazoo County. Its goal is 50,000 masks.

Another community group with Connections Community Church in Schoolcraft, a smaller group with only 10 women, has made nearly 1,000 masks. The group was started by Lori Hart, who works at Bronson Hospital, at a time when hospitals were so short on personal protection equipment that hospital personnel were given just one mask and required to reuse it until it was visibly soiled.

Hart knew they needed more masks and went to pick up fabric to start making masks over that very first weekend when the country was shocked by the invasion of the coronavirus. Hart took some into work where people loved the homemade masks. She put a message out to the church and more women offered to help.

One local quilter, Debra Youngs, has made more than 250 masks personally. She has donated them to hospitals and other places. She has taken them into stores with her and handed them out to people without a mask in a gesture of kindness for others who needed the masks. One manufacturing facility purchased 30 masks from Youngs. She donated the proceeds to “12 Baskets Food Pantry” on Portage Road.

The time and expenses involved with mask making can vary widely depending on mask design, sewing ability, filters, or even others’ assistance. Youngs enlisted the help of three friends who couldn’t sew but were willing to iron fabric into ties which she used in sewing the masks. It helped dramatically cut her time in producing the masks and allowed her to crank out 3-4 masks an hour. She cut up 25 yards of muslin fabric in 2-inch strips into ties to use with masks which four ties. Youngs calculated that she could get approximately eight masks from one yard of fabric, not including a lining for the masks.

The generosity of all of those producing, donating, providing and simply giving to help others through these dire days of coronavirus is an inspiration for our kind community. It is yet another example of the goodness which permeates southwest Michigan.

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