Volunteers thread together to make high-demand face masks

Published: Mar. 25, 2020 at 6:44 PM CDT
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Volunteers across the state of Wisconsin are threading together to make high-demand face masks for medical professionals.

Throughout the week, on a national and state level, government officials have been trying to keep up with personal protective equipment (PPE) demands at local hospitals.

With at least four decades of sewing under her belt, it's all hands on deck for Carol Bruess in De Pere as she makes dozens of face masks. She is also helping coordinate a local Facebook group 'Masks for Green Bay', with dozens of volunteers looking to do the same thing-- ease the medical supply shortage from home.

"It's has been shocking to think that it's 2020 and we have an army of people in their homes making face masks for doctors and nurses," said Bruess.

"Seeing everybody, putting aside all their differences to come together for a common goal. I think that's a big thing that right now we need," said Heather Augustyn, a sewer in Antigo.

Augustyn is helping coordinate another Facebook group called 'Wisconsin Face Mask Warriors.'

"I'm hoping that we can streamline the process so that we can take the burden of all the phone calls from volunteers that the hospitals are getting. Those people can instead contact u, so that the hospitals are freed up so that people know exactly what to sew," said Augustyn.

With many patterns to choose from, Augustyn has created a document for health professionals to fill out so that she can tell the volunteers exactly what to make.

"People can contact us. We can hopefully keep people from wasting their time making things that aren't needed and also keep people from wasting the hospital's time with all these questions," said Augustyn.

In Brown County, Bruess said health care leaders are still trying to come up with the best protective option.

"They have their infectious disease specialist looking at prototypes already made, and say, "Okay lets use this pattern because we believe this will give our people the greatest protection'."

Volunteers are also experimenting on their own, trying to figure out if some house-hold items could offer even more protection.

"Some nurses are putting coffee filters in as filters. Others people are using vacuum bags, while others are using furnace filters, just to try to add one extra layer of protection for themselves," said Augustyn.

But even though the home-made masks won't replace the medical-grade N95 masks, they both believe the home-made masks still serve a purpose.

"That's kind of our goal in this is. Let's get these masks being used by the people who don't need the N95, so that the N95's can be saved for those right on the front lines that are putting themselves in harm's way," said Augustyn.

"It has been incredible to see in a time of crisis, where this community and really all over Wisconsin, people are coming together to say, "What can I do? What can I offer to help those people who are helping all of us on the front lines?" said Bruess. "We all have something to offer."

If you are not a sewer, Bruess and Augustyn say you can offer to buy fabric, cut fabric, track down elastic or offer to safely transport the finished product to those who need them most. The Facebook groups are called 'Masks of Green Bay' and 'Wisconsin Face Mask Warriors.'

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