Maine Group Delivers Homemade Masks To Health Care Providers — With More To Come

Apr 8, 2020

As the COVID-19 crisis goes on, some people are looking to help out by making masks for medical workers and others who are working and living in situations that put them at high risk for contracting the disease. Many have found it's easy enough to sew the masks, but hard to get them where they're most needed.

Across the state, the group Sewing Masks For Maine has harnessed the energy of about 1,500 volunteers via Facebook and their website. So far, they've made and delivered more than 2,000 masks specifically designed to cover n95 masks, to extend their life.

Kris Hall is one of the group's founders. She told Maine Public's Nora Flaherty that the group is particularly well organized because the people involved have a range of specialties:

Ed. note: interview has been edited for length and clarity

Hall:  There were three Maine groups that came together. One was started by a public health nurse, and one was started by someone who saw it entirely from a spreadsheet point of view. She was like, "This is chaos, and it needs to be organized." And so that's what she did. We have a public relations person and a small business owner and myself. I have the sewing background. I worked at the University of Southern Maine for 10 years as the costume shop supervisor. So I taught a lot of people to sew, and many of my former students are now my Facebook friends. And when we saw it starting to happen, one of my former students and I just decided that it needed to be organized in some fashion, to keep every stitcher in Maine from making 10 masks and calling the hospital and asking where to drop them off. Hospitals don't need to be distracted right now, but they do need the face coverings, and so we figured out how to do that.

Flaherty: Right now Sewing Masks for Maine is completely focused on making what you guys are calling 'Masks for Masks.'

Yes. The thing about home-sewers — and I count myself among that happy number now that I'm not sewing for a living anymore — is that we're sort of relentlessly innovative. And we like direction, but only in as much as we can innovate off those directions. And so people were proposing different fabrics and different styles and different ways of putting filters in, and nobody could really buckle down to get the numbers made. So we focused on one particular pattern, and we asked a major health organization in Maine to try it out and tell us what size they liked. And from there, we've been focusing on production of that particular mask. So that's allowed us, over the last 18 days, we've delivered more than 2,000 masks already. It's, you know —we have requests for 8,000 masks. Those are not individuals. Those are organizations that are requesting them for their workers.

When do you anticipate you'll be able to meet that demand?

Well, that is the million dollar question. We think we're doing 150 to 200 masks per day. Are we ever going to produce 8,000 masks? I think it depends on how long it goes on, and whether or not we need to, because organizations like L.L. Bean or American Roots are starting to step up, and they can produce 10,000 masks. We'd hope to reach 8,000, but we also hope to get through the peak and have real PPE delivered to all of our health care providers. And these masks can be used for other things at that point,

Why did you decide to focus all of your attentions on making these masks to cover N95 masks?

One of our founders from one of the organizations is a public health nurse, and she helps to develop a private prioritization schedule, is what we're calling it — the prioritization schedule. And that puts hospitals and emergency rooms and first responders at the top of the list because they are the ones at most risk for exposure. And they're the ones who are going to be going through the most PPE. And so that's our top priority.

If I happen to be a person with a sewing machine and a large stash of unused quilting fabric at home, and I want to make masks, what do I do? How do I get involved in this, and what's the process look like?

At Facebook, as you're saying, you can go to Sewing Master Maine and join the private group. Once you've produced your mask, there's likely a drop spot somewhere in your county. And after they've been collected, then we do a little bit of quality control to make sure that they're standard in the way that they work and the way that they look, and there's no you know, dangling threads or anything like that. And then the coordinators package them up and take them to the organizations that have requested them. And then we check that off our list. We've delivered it to several organizations already — about 2,000 masks.

All right, Chris Hall with Sewing Masks for Maine. Thank you so much for your time.

Sewing Masks for Maine has not made public which groups they are sewing for, but MaineHealth is currently accepting donations of handmade facemasks. In an email, Maine Med says it is evaluating how best to use the donations. According to Northern Light Health's website, it's accepting donations of cloth facemasks and headbands. They also have suggested patterns on their site

Update 4:03 p.m. May 1, 2020: A previous version of this post said Northern Light was not accepting face masks. Northern Light Health is accepting homemade cloth face masks for employees to wear while not working.