In the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) has struck those in need. Because of this, residents of the Seacoast have come together to combat this issue.
When founder Javi Kalback became aware of this shortage, they knew they could make a difference in this time of need. Inspired by wanting to provide for healthcare workers, caregivers and correctional facilities, Seacoast Mask Makers was formed on Facebook and gained traction quickly. While the group was originally founded to service hospitals, they investigated other organizations that displayed a need for PPE, like face masks.
“We went from about 30 people on March 21 to about 1200 3 days later,” Seacoast Mask Makers public relations (PR) coordinator Sarah Lachance said. At the time of this writing, there are 1,472 members who donate materials, make masks and help in other ways through the Facebook group. As of March 31, Seacoast Mask Makers had donated nearly 5,000 masks to places along the Seacoast like Riverside Rest Home, Strafford County Department of Corrections, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Police Department, various essential employees and more. While local hospitals are still using existing supplies and are not yet in need of the mask donations, Lachance said “If and when hospitals have a greater need, we have the process and “machine” ready to help supply them.” According to Lachance, each day they are receiving more requests from organizations for masks after seeing the impact that they have had so far on the community. The members of this group aim to make a difference, and without them, many people on the Seacoast could be left without proper PPE.
While COVID-19 has interrupted the lives of people internationally, the members of Seacoast Mask Makers have taken this time as an opportunity to help those in need and were more than willing to take time out of their days to make masks. Whether they were immunocompromised, unemployed at the moment, or they were concerned members of the medical communities, each member had a reason for joining the group. Some members had never sewn before and took this opportunity to learn because it meant helping others in need.
Trish Derrickson is a first-time sewer that joined the group but was able to jump right into making masks because of Seacoast Mask Makers’ guidance that is provided within the group.
“I had no idea how to use a sewing machine, let alone sew a surgical mask before I found this group. I desperately wanted to help our frontline workers somehow and Seacoast Mask Makers not only taught me how, but also became a streamlined entity that organized production, supplies and delivery thanks to a few amazing people,” Derrickson said. The page includes instructions on different types of masks that they accept as donations and the materials that can be used, as well as video tutorials to teach those like Derrickson.
For those not interested in sewing the masks, there are other ways to get involved, including cutting materials, transporting from donation “hubs” to organizations, and more.
“This group is incredible. Everyone can contribute no matter what their skill level. Everyone is supportive to get the job done,” Wendy Harrington, another member of the group, said. “The work and efforts of the stitchers, runners, organizers and donators have created something special here. We all feel it and are driven to provide needed protection to those on the front lines in our communities. We won’t stop until masks are everywhere they are needed.”
Chrissy Mack, also a member of Seacoast Mask Makers, is self-employed but due to the pandemic has not had much work coming in. With two teen sons at home, making masks has been a way for her to get through this while feeling a sense of community.
“I have no money coming in and had to file for unemployment and food stamps. I pulled out my sewing machine and started making masks. It is helping to get me though a really difficult time. I feel less helpless because I’m helping others,” Mack said.
Seacoast Mask Makers has made many of its members feel less alone during a time of social distancing and isolation and has brought numerous people together towards one common cause.
“I have several friends who are nurses and they asked me if I could sew some cloth masks for them, as their supplies were running out. I jumped at the chance to give back to my community, and to feel like I’m doing something productive during this frightening time. The camaraderie is amazing, and it really helps with the isolation,” Jennifer Reed Decker, a member of the group, said. “I am so proud of my fellow seamstresses and also of those vital members of the group who don’t sew but help out in every other way. We embody the true spirit of American values. Pitch in, do what you can, help your neighbors. We got this!”
The Seacoast Mask Makers has no plan of stopping anytime soon, as they still have several organizations requesting donations. For those interested in getting involved, Lachance recommends joining the Facebook group and viewing the tutorials to get started and become part of “and a very supportive, motivated and engaged community.” For those looking to donate materials to Seacoast Mask Makers, they are currently in need of 100 percent cotton fabric and elastic and can be contacted at [email protected] and you can visit their website at seacoastmaskmakers.org.