Editor's Note: In the May 13 print edition of The Chronicle we first told you about a Columbia County group making a positive difference in our community during the pandemic.
We wanted to share that story by reporter Christine Menges here online.
The Mask Makers of Scappoose have made more than 6,000 masks for workers who directly deal with COVID-19 patients.
Local resident Lisa Masog founded the group in late March.
The masks are donated for free, and the workers volunteer their time to construct each protection face mask. Masks, part of personal protection equipment (PPE) essential for frontline workers currently sell right now for an average of $10 apiece, according to Masog. This means that The Mask Makers have made approximately $55,000 worth of masks for facilities that need PPE.
The group has approximately 13 people who sew masks, and their locations go from East to West Coast of the United States.
When she heard about healthcare facilities and similar institutions being in need of PPE like masks, Masog reached out to seamstresses she knew individually, talked to them about her vision of forming a group to make masks, and let them know about the need for masks.
“When I asked them, I said, ‘would you sew with me to do this and send these out?’ and they said yes. So that’s how it started,” Masog said.
Their mission is to provide Centers for Disease Control (CDC)-approved PPE for people in need, such as healthcare facilities workers. The Mask Makers have a two-page-long list for organizations that have received their masks, and their locations range from locally to as far away as Kuwait.
Organizations that have received their masks include Columbia Community Mental Health, the USS MERCY anchored outside of LA in California, to Battlecreek Memory Care in Salem.
The seamstresses all sew independently in their own homes. Masog does pickups twice a week for those who live locally. She said she requires that each seamstress make at least 25 masks a week, but most of the mask makers go above and beyond that requirement, sometimes making hundreds of masks a week, she said.
“I provide material to all my people,” she said. “I try to provide elastic to them and thread and needles and everything so that they don’t have to get their own stuff.”
As the project continued, Masog secured materials to make the masks through donations from people in the community.
After she picks up the masks, Masog ships them to a specific individual who she knows is connected to a place that needs them.
“When I hear of a need, I usually hear it from a contact. And it’s crazy how many people in the healthcare profession I’m actually connected to,” she said.
Along the way, Masog has found different opportunities to sponsor various parts of the mask-making and mask-shipping.
About a week after starting the group, Masog got a call from Oregon Aero, an aircraft supply store in Scappoose, which offered to be the shipping sponsor for the masks, and they now ship most of the masks nationwide. A week after that, she got a call from Thibaut Design in Los Angeles, which gave the Mask Makers its discontinued prints, at one time giving 20 yards of fabric, another time 48 yards. Another offer Masog received was when an upholsterer in St. Helens had to close up shop because of COVID-19, but had an industrial cutter and was able to cut all the fabric Masog had accumulated.
“So it was just all kinds of people just coming out and coming together and making it possible,” she said.
All sorts of different connections have enabled Masog to reach out to people in need. The reason she has been able to supply the Navajo Nation in Arizona with face masks was because of a friend of Masog’s through her work.
“His wife was online and she saw something, so she forwarded it to me,” she said. “So I called them and we created a connection and a relationship. Now I’m sending masks down to Arizona.”
In order for the masks to be effective, they must follow the CDC guidelines, which stipulate that masks must be two layers of 100 percent cotton with no filter in between. The lack of a filter allows for the masks to be thoroughly sanitized and cleaned in the autoclave sanitizing machines in health care facilities, as well as easily cleaned at home for individual citizens.
The Mask Makers follow those guidelines and also offers two different types of masks: Those with elastic loops that go behind the ears, and those secured by strings that are tied behind the head, the latter of which are more comfortable for healthcare workers who must wear the masks for up to 16 hours at a time.
Masog has heard lots of praise from those she has given the masks to. One was from someone who works at a Marines home base, who gave Masog a thank-you message on Facebook.
“He said, ‘I cannot express enough gratitude to you and your team for your wonderful gift. These masks were immediately put to use and Marines no longer had to use makeshift scarves and masks of their old t-shirts. We truly appreciate your generosity, time and patriotism,” she said.
As far as future plans go, Masog said her sewing group will go full-time until September. She noted that right now, her orders have shifted so that in addition to healthcare facilities requesting masks, many businesses planning to open back up soon are also requesting masks.
The group’s masks will probably be needed for a good, long while, Masog said, but she does not have an exact end date yet for making the masks.
“I don’t really know,” she said. “I do kind of hope that everything settles down, but if it doesn’t, I know that I do have a lot of dedicated people on the team that will be willing to do it for the long haul.”
If you would like to be apart of The Mask Makers, contact Masog at email@example.com, or via Facebook messenger at, https://www.facebook.com/groups/229761691733510, or mail a check to Elks Veteran Bunker P.O. Box 1061. St. Helens, OR 97051.
If you know of someone, an agency or business, or a group, that is making a positive difference in our community and would like to see them featured in Who We Are, email details to firstname.lastname@example.org.