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The local group supplies Columbia County with masks - for free - and many others, too

PMG PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Scappoose's Lisa Masog, founder of The Mask Makers, displays some of the designs that her group has produced and distributed for free across Columbia County, Oregon and the country.It was all so recent.

We saw our first business closures. Students were sent home from school. Reports of Covid-19 infections and deaths were on the rise seemingly everywhere around the world.

Faced with all that darkness back in mid-March, Scappoose resident Lisa Masog decided to make things better.

Specifically, she decided to make facemasks, first for a friend of hers who works as a nurse at Adventist Health Portland.

"She said 'Our facemasks are in such short supply already. We are given one facemask — it's a disposable facemask — and one paper bag with our name on it. And they're hoping that after a 12-hour shift, it dries out before our next shift. It's really gross and it makes me sad and we're all really scared and we don't know what to do,'" Masog recalled. "I thought, that's really terrible."

With her own professional life shifted to a work-from-home model, Masog got online, did some research and found a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Representatives from a hospital in Indiana approached the CDC and asked what they could do — and what the public could do to — in response to the expected shortage of personal protective equipment, specifically masks.

"The CDC responded to them with ... a pattern that was for washable, reusable facemask protection," Masog said, adding that the masks are 100% cotton, two layers only and pleated. "They produced a video to show people how to make them — it was a 10-minute video — and I watched the video and I thought 'I could totally do that.'"

A growing group

From that initial spark of inspiration, Masog eventually launched The Mask Makers, a Facebook group that now numbers 17 sewing team members (14 from Oregon and one each in Washington, California and Virginia), many other supporters and has produced, to date, nearly 6,000 masks.

Those masks have been distributed — for free — to hundreds of recipients in St. Helens and Scappoose.

Here's just a few of the local organizations that have benefitted from The Mask Makers' efforts: Community Action Team in St. Helens; SAFE in Columbia County; Berkshire Hathaway Real Estate in Scappoose; Columbia County Sheriff's Department; Columbia County Mental Health; OHSU Primary Care Clinic in Scappoose; and Oregon Aero Inc. in Scappoose.

Indeed, The Mask Makers have been so successful in their short existence that the Elks Veterans Bunker in St. Helens serves as a tax deductible donation drop. Checks made out to the Veterans Bunker with the designation "To The Mask Makers" will provide needed supplies and postage.

The Cost

The Mask Makers have made and distributed almost 6,000 masks — for free — since their inception on March 26.

Each mask costs aproximately $2 to make, not including labor and shipping.

See The Mask Makers' Facebook page here

But that, as they say, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The Mask Makers' presence on social media has given the group a reach that extends well beyond Columbia County.

Here's just a few of the groups outside Columbia County that The Mask Makers have supplied: Multnomah County Jail in Portland; Elderwise Inc.; Clark County Sheriff's Department; Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs; Brookdale Assisted Living in Walla Walla, Washington; Eagle Health Alaska in Anchorage; Chinie Navajo Nation in Arizona; Lake Glen Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky; Vassar Brothers Medical Center in New York; Norton Children's Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky; Boys & Girls Aid; Food Lion in Kentucky; the community emergency response team in Hawaii; Boys & Girls Clubs of America; and last week, 160 masks for the United States Marine Corps in Kuwait, and 310 masks to the USNS Mercy ship docked in Los Angeles.

Further, The Mask Makers create and distribute both family sets — with sizes available for children as young as 3 — and shop sets, masks to outfit everyone at a particular business.

In less than two months, Masog's idea evolved from helping a friend — using just her skills and leftover fabric from home and from her mother — into a mask-manufacturing powerhouse that has produced and shipped nearly 6,000 masks to locations across the country.

The benefit of social media

That transition happened thanks to some dedicated networking by Masog, people's need to contribute during the coronavirus pandemic, and the impact of making connections on Facebook.

PMG PHOTO: MILES VANCE - The Mask Makers have created several different designs for their masks, and since March 26, have distributed almost 6,000 to people in Columbia County, across Oregon and throughout the country."Social media has been a really good tool for us. I get lots of hits through social media on posts that people have seen and (Facebook) allows me to reach out to them directly and find out what their needs are and how to get them what they need," Masog said, adding that social media has also allowed others to make donations to her group. "It's kept everyone connected and allowed me to recruit sewing team members who heard about our group, then decided they wanted to be part of the bigger plan."

One of the group's first big requests — 200 masks — came from Chemwest Systems Inc. in Portland. Once Masog and The Mask Makers learned they could handle big requests like that, it opened their eyes to what was possible.

"They put in our first big order and gave us a subsequent sizable donation that's going for supplies," Masog said. "That made me know that we could handle these larger orders. It actually feels really good to do this. We thought 'Let's kick it up a notch and see what we can do.' They pushed us into the deep end so to speak."

Donations roll in

Once her group began to grow and the mask-making project started to snowball, Masog began to connect with a variety of supporters, starting with a donation of 20 yards of 100% cotton fabric from Thibaut Design in Los Angeles ("All they wanted to see was pictures of people wearing masks with their fabric," she said). After that came free shipping from Oregon Aero in Scappoose, help from James Anderson of Roads End in St. Helens (he used his industrial fabric cutter to precut fabric), a volunteer driver for local deliveries and more.

"It just kind of snowballed from there," Masog said. "I was getting an average of three to four requests around the country every day."

An amazing team

Masog and her fellow sewing team members initially agreed to make a minimum of 25 masks each per week and see how it went. In short, it went well, the group grew, the requests continued to come in regularly and the masks started going out in response.

"My team is amazing," Masog said. "I ask 25 (masks) a week, but I can make 25 in an evening, so if you're adept at what you're doing, 25 a week will allow you to have a life. … I do have people who far surpass that. We crank out what's needed."

That said, the CDC-recommended design isn't one for beginners. Most of the sewing team members in The Mask Makers have long backgrounds in sewing.

"Sewing is a personal passion of mine. … I've been sewing for many years so this was something that naturally fell into my lap," Masog said. "If you are an accomplished sewer, the pattern is OK. If you're not, it's not."

Even more important

Now, with businesses and society slowly reopening across Columbia County and the rest of the country, The Mask Makers' efforts may be more important than ever. Masog noted that all their masks feature two types of fabric (to differentiate the inside from the outside), and for healthcare workers, all are made so that they can be disinfected in an autoclave.

"People don't feel safe coming to work if what they have to wear looks ratty," Masog said. "You don't want to feel like you're disposable because you're wearing yesterday's (dirty mask) on your face."

Beyond the benefit the masks themselves provide, The Mask Makers' efforts give members a sense of purpose and a chance to help others.

"I can't knit — I would love to learn how to crochet — but I can cook and I can sew," Masog added. "That's pretty much what I can do so that's what I figure I can contribute."


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