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Butte crafters mobilize to help health workers, emergency service providers
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Butte crafters mobilize to help health workers, emergency service providers

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As the world comes to a near standstill while trying to fend off the novel coronavirus, crafty people are stepping up to make homemade face masks for their local health workers facing shortages in protective gear and supplies.

With volunteers across the nation forming sewing groups, a Butte woman has created a Facebook group to rally locals with sewing talents to make face masks.

Francis Kayser started the group “Butte Reusable Face Masks Donations” on Saturday, and as of Tuesday morning, over 140 people have joined.

With hospitals nationwide, including in southwest Montana, in desperate need of more protective gear as the novel coronavirus sweeps through, this group of Butte residents is tapping their sewing and organizational skills to help. Group members also include those interested in donating fabric and supplies, as well as folks who want a face mask.

“I saw that there was a big need in our community, especially among those with immunocompromised health, to get face masks,” Kayser said. “So I wanted to get ladies together to make reusable face masks to help people who are vulnerable or in need.”

Masks sewn properly, with the right kind of fabric, can meet guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The masks are not the same as N95 respirators, which are in short supply and needed most by medical providers treating patients with COVID-19.

Kayser said that her group’s homemade reusable masks aren’t medical-grade and may not meet all the standards set by the CDC. She said the sewing team understands that homemade masks can be used but only as a last resort. 

Kayser said the group's initial efforts focused on providing masks for immunocompromised residents who need to get out to community to buy supplies, as well as essential personnel who need protection, too, including nursing home staff, government employees, service industry staff, and grocery store workers. 

Health experts, including the surgeon general of the United States, have stressed to the public simultaneously that the masks weren’t necessary for protecting the average healthy adult, that healthcare workers needed the dwindling supply, and that those with compromised immune systems should stay home.

Kayser said the focus now is on covering frontline hospital workers and emergency services staff. 

“The reason for this is because they are on the front lines of this epidemic,” Kayser said. “If we do not help them until they get a new supply of masks this can put further strain on them.”

Kayser said she has been in contact with a primary care provider at St. James Healthcare, who told them that her staff are in need of face masks. 

“It’s to the point that St. James has contacted their directors based in Denver, Colorado about having us provide masks for their facility,” Kayser said. “So our group’s primary focus for right now is just getting St. James hospital hooked up with face masks.”

Once Kayser’s group finds out how many masks they need to make for St. James, they will work on figuring out a safe and effective distribution network. 

“Our goal is to essentially streamline this process. This has been a very fluid movement and we are attempting to streamline the process,” Kayser wrote in an update on her Facebook group. “This has been difficult to organize but with dedication and hard work we can do this.”

Volunteers are lining up on the sewing side.

Kayser said about 26 people have expressed interest in sewing masks, and 10 are actively sewing.

“One of our sewers works as a professional seamstress, and she makes about 25 to 50 masks a day,” she said. 

Kayser added that she has been sewing masks herself. “I try to crank out about 10-20 a day,” she said. But lately, Kayser said she and her husband have been busy tracking down more fabric and supplies to get ready to outfit the hospital.

Fabric, though, is hard to access amid social distancing, and Kayser said the supplies are starting to run low. And it’s costly.

“If we as sewers can get donations of fabric, that will help a lot and make it go much faster,” Kayser said. She said the group needs more cotton fabric, elastic, fabric cutters and blades and thread. 

“We have to give priority to hospital and emergency services people, but we also want to continue to provide masks free of charge to anyone who needs them,” said Kayser. “Our concern is that we’re limited on supplies and will start running out soon.”

If people have fabric, thread, elastic and other resources to donate, or have experience in sewing and want to help out, they can call the Kaysers at (406) 885-4431 or contact the Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/199518748006021/.

“Once we get enough masks for our health workers and get a sizable number of extra masks made, we’ll start giving them out to everybody who wants one,” Kayser said.

Meanwhile, Heather Kelly is another Butte resident who is on a quest to create face masks for those who need them, especially area hospitals and clinics. 

Kelly, who runs a Cowboys & Angels Childcare in Butte, said she started making masks after she received an email from national retailer JOANN Fabrics and Craft Stores about how the company is asking sewers to pitch in and help make masks for medical professionals. 

Last week, the retailer released a video tutorial on how to make face masks and encouraged people to drop them off at store locations, so that they could send them to local hospitals.

At the same time, Kelly thought it’d also be a great opportunity to teach her 12-year-old daughter, Katelynn, to sew and get involved in helping the community.

“My daughter helped me with the first 33 face masks as I was teaching her how to sew,” Kelly said. She’s since distributed those masks to the community and has been receiving a stream of requests on Facebook. 

“Last night I had 80 requests from businesses and people, and I got more today,” Kelly said. She said she doesn’t know how many she’ll be able to make today, since she’s just “trying to keep sewing to keep up with the requests.”

The response has been overwhelming so far, Kelly said.

“I’m trying to focus on medical professionals first and people with medical issues or compromised health,” Kelly said. She said Greenwood Assisted Living, Compassus Home Health, doctors' offices, a funeral home and nurses have reached out to her for homemade face masks. 

While she has enough fabric on hand, Kelly said she was short on elastic. 

“I’m having a hard time finding elastic, so I’ve been having to improvise,” Kelly said. She said she’s been using elastic hair bands and other types of elastic to keep making her masks.

She said she’s making face masks for free and wants to help keep health workers safe during the pandemic.

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