Salmo woman starts Facebook group to organize mask-makers

Hopes to ease mask shortage for Kootenay first responders and essential service workers.

A Salmo woman is gathering an army of seamstresses to make masks to help local first responders and essential workers deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jessica Mitchell, who’s immune-compromised herself and staying isolated, recently heard of the looming shortage of surgical masks and other medical supplies.

“I saw a post, it was coming from the U.S. asking people to do that,” she says. “I was surprised there were no local groups doing this for our local community.”

She decided to do something about it.

Mitchell started a Facebook group to see if there was any interest, and the response in just one day has been overwhelming.

“I am just shy of 230 members who are working on making masks,” Mitchell told Castlegar News on Tuesday, March 24. “I started the group yesterday, so it’s really taking off, the response has been incredible.”

SEE: B.C. care providers say masks, medical supplies ‘drying up’ due to COVID-19 concerns

Mitchell emphasizes it’s not just her organizing this. Friends like Teresa Wiedrick and others have helped make it happen.

“They have been an integral resource and we’re all in this together,” she says.

Mitchell says people can find designs for masks online, and can work up the masks from there. She says it’s not too complicated, and a person can create quite a number of masks every day.

“From what I understand they are very easy to make,” she says. “They don’t use a ton of fabric and you can make one pretty quickly.”

“There are different templates online, I am in contact with a lot of health workers who are coming to a consensus on the best styles that they are looking for,” she says.

This is still in the early stages — Mitchell’s only been running with this for a day, after all — but she says she’s been hearing from health officials about her mask-making drive.

The big problem, of course, is the need for sterility. Medical equipment has to be of a high standard that home-made mask makers just can’t meet.

But Mitchell says there are still uses for her group’s masks.

“We have not got the go-ahead from Infection Control, which was expected,” she says. “But nurses and people on the front line are saying we do need them. So it’s becoming more of a personal choice for them to bring them to work.

“And they can use them when they go home to be with their family.”

She says the system really can’t give the official OK to use the masks, but individual health-care workers are deciding if and when to use them.

“We also got lots of orders from seniors homes, as well as for first responders, emergency services have asked for them. And we are reaching out to essential service providers like grocery stores to offer them to their staff.”

Over the next few days Mitchell hopes to organize the requests for masks with the creators making them, to co-ordinate who will send what to each group in need.

Anyone is welcome to join her group to take part in the sewing bee.

SEE: Homemade Masks for Hometown Heroes (FB page)

Mitchell says anyone needing the masks is welcome to contact her through the Facebook page to see if her group can help.

“It’s really important right now, we’ve never been so dependent on each other, to be healthy, to keep healthy and safe,” she says. “And I love we are giving an opportunity for people who are practicing social distancing at home an opportunity to help those who don’t have that opportunity.

“I think it’s a great way to involve the community from a distance.”



reporter@rosslandnews.com

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Needing masks isn’t new. A public service ad from 1918, showing people how to make a rudimentary face mask to try to avoid the deadly influenza. (Contributed photo).

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