Covering all the COVID-19 prevention bases means covering one's face in public.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using cloth face coverings to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, along with other crucial protections such as constant hand washing and social distancing.
But mask usage seems to be the least adhered to preventative measure in many public places -- or so it appears.
One would-be shopper went to a Woodburn business and noticed as much.
"I was horrified to see so many people moving about in clusters, no social distancing at all, and very few masks," Silverton resident Darlene Blackstone described her response while entering a local store. "I just turned around and left."
Upon reflection, Blackstone said she felt some remorse for being judgemental. Some people may not have full awareness or access to information about the risks. For that matter, some may be aware of the risks but unable to acquire masks due to finances or accessiblity.
Blackstone decided to be proactive.
She was aware of Marion County reports that indicated Woodburn's zip code showed more positive COVID-19 tests than others. Maybe if more masks were available to people, that could help?
"I called Pam, whom we know and love from partnering last fall on another project, and I told her the story, and I asked if there would be a way we could help get masks to the community," Blackstone related. "And if so, how many?"
Coincidentally, Bridgehouse was already aligned to the idea.
"As it happened, I was sewing masks when she called," Bridgehouse said. "I mentioned the need to Pastor (Zabdi) Lopez. Darlene had mentioned Bi-Mart, but Pastor Lopez said he had noticed the same (situation) in Mega Foods."
Lopez, who serves at Woodburn's Hope Lutheran Church, advised that the project may be more effective with grocery-store shoppers.
"We should hand them out at Mega Foods. Deaconess Marta (Luna) can help," Lopez told Bridgehouse.
"We decided to ask for 500 masks. I contacted Mega Foods Manager Ken Klein. I was confident he would be on board with the idea because the store is very sensitive in accommodating the needs of the various cultural groups in Woodburn," Bridgehouse said. "They have helped us with charitable projects before."
Her confidence was spot on.
Klein was not only receptive to the idea, he offered to supply a table and bilingual signs denoting the free offering.
Bridgehouse added that Luna's presence was also essential to the task since she knows many people in Woodburn.
"A familiar face sets people at ease. She is also a champion at recruiting volunteers," Bridgehouse said.
Getting to work
The initial project began with a Silverton Senior Center group making 500 masks.
"I called a few key senior center members, including the ring leader of the 'Knit-Witz,' a group of women who get together once a week at the center to chit-chat while they work on their various needlecraft projects," Blackstone said. "She contacted the others and soon had a squad of mask-makers at work."
Other senior center members joined in, and the Knit-Witz spawned a sub-club dubbed the "Merry Mask Makers."
Blackstone's campaign expanded from Silverton as groups like Woodburn-area's Russian Old Believer Community and sewers affiliated with Zion Mennonite Church east of Hubbard joined into the production process.
Prior to the Mega Foods set up, the group was able to relay masks to Bridgehouse, who in turn gave them to Luna who was able to furnish area families in need of masks.
While Merry Mask Makers' production was fairly prolific, the need outpaced it. So the groups raised funds and ordered manufactured paper masks to give out in conjunction with their hand-made ones.
On Wednesday, May 20, enough masks were available to hold the Mega Foods giveaway where Lopez and Luna were joined by volunteers Natali Alfaro, Erick Velazquez and Obdulia Chavez to hand out masks – a lot of masks.
"Over all the project has been very well received," Bridgehouse said. "The volunteers who sewed, donated money to buy masks, and those who handed them out all have been blessed by knowing they are doing something to help.
"People received the masks with smiles and thanks. There were even people driving by who stopped and asked for masks for their family."
Some shoppers expressed appreciation for what the volunteers were doing for the community. Only a few people refused. If they decide otherwise, there will probably be another opportunity to get a mask as the process continues.
"As of today, we have 21 people making masks, and one guy doing porch pickups and deliveries," Blackstone said on Friday.
In addition to cloth mask makers, the group has provided 1,100 paper masks and are awaiting a shipment of 500 more.
"I'm not quite sure how many cloth masks we've delivered," Blackstone said. "Last Friday we had about 150 cloth masks ready to deliver, but Pam said let's wait until Monday. On Saturday afternoon we got a call that Providence Benedictine in Mt. Angel was in urgent need of masks. A few hours later 60 masks were in their hands.
"The nurse who took delivery was astonished it happened so fast."
Bridgehouse said over the course of three days they handed out 1621 masks in Woodburn. But the collaborative effort has proved rewarding beyond the scope of personal and public safety.
"This is such a wonderful partnership of neighbors helping neighbors," Bridgehouse said. "It helps to fulfill the mission of every group involved. People feel satisfied. Helping, giving, builds a person up and helps them feel like they have at least a little influence over an out-of-control situation.
"We really appreciate the love and skill and generosity of everyone who has helped in any way."
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