ELY - When the coronavirus pandemic hit, no one on the Ely area COVID-19 Response Team anticipated that local mask makers would be delivering hundreds of protective face masks to five area schools …
ELY - When the coronavirus pandemic hit, no one on the Ely area COVID-19 Response Team anticipated that local mask makers would be delivering hundreds of protective face masks to five area schools and thousands of other masks to area businesses, health care facilities, vulnerable individuals, and other community members.
The effort started way back in March, according to Response team member Sally Koski, because of a desire to respond to the COVID-19 situation in Ely with several face mask production projects that would grow to meet the needs of the community.
“Heart of the Woods Quilters, Wintergreen Northern Wear and Paula Mair each spearheaded initiatives to make masks at a time not even healthcare workers had access to medical grade facemasks,” Koski said. In addition to the cotton face mask projects, a small group of 3-D printers, led by Zach Huberty, made clear face shields for area first responders.
“We felt like it was our duty to support Ely and the surrounding communities by making masks,” said Bria Schurke of Wintergreen Northern Wear. “We had the equipment, the skills, and the ability to get the word out to volunteers.”
Paula Mair launched the Masks for Ely, MN Facebook page in early April to connect people living in Ely needing a COVID-19 mask with people in the community who were willing and able to make masks.
“I am incredibly proud to be a part of the mask-making efforts in Ely. Women have willingly given up their time, effort and supplies to help keep Ely safe,” Mair said. “This time donated came from family and other community time. It really has been a community effort.”
The Community Care Team (CCT), a partnership of community members and organizations representing health care, education, and social services, formed a working group to address COVID-19 related needs in Ely and surrounding areas.
“This COVID-19 Response Team took on the task of coordinating mask distribution to ensure healthcare workers and vulnerable individuals had protective face coverings,” Koski said.
As Wintergreen became aware of the statewide need for reusable gowns for healthcare workers, they shifted their production efforts from face masks to gowns. Within a few days, CCT mask coordinator Ellen Root had a list of volunteer seamstresses, piles of donated and pre-cut fabric, and a face mask pattern with written and video instructions.
“We were able to pick up right where Wintergreen left off and continued to provide reusable cotton face masks to our area when personal protective equipment (PPE) was in critically short supply,” Root said.
The Community Care Team focused specifically on providing masks to area nonprofit agencies with frontline workers as well as community members with greater vulnerability to becoming seriously ill if they contract COVID-19, according to Koski.
In addition to the CCT effort, other individuals and groups in the Ely area stepped up to produce face masks and distribute them in the community. Heart of the Woods Quilters guild members sewed hundreds of masks in a variety of fabrics and donated them to the CCT for distribution.
By mid-October, volunteer mask makers with the Community Care Team effort had produced more than 2,800 reusable cotton face masks for use in the Ely, Babbitt, Tower and Soudan areas.
“While masks are only one part of the fight against COVID-19, choosing to wear a mask to protect those around you can be an empowering decision,” Koski said. “And while mask makers and mask wearers may not have been able to meet each other in person, they are connected through an act of caring that builds community.”
Mask maker Autumn Cole expressed the sentiments of many of the mask makers. “I, along with many others in our Heart of the Woods quilt guild, began making masks early on as requested by our local health care professionals and facilities,” she said. “I felt it was part of my civic responsibility to care for our community, keep us healthy, and slow the spread of COVID-19. Whenever we were asked by another group in town such as the schools, retail stores, churches, or high risk individuals, our group immediately responded making hundreds of donated masks. We are still making masks. I always seem to fall back on our Cole family motto, ‘Helping others is what life is all about,’ which continues to inspire me to do just that.”
Another mask maker, Missy Bailey, added, “I’m happy to contribute to this very important effort to keep our little community safe.”