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Posted on March 1, 2020

Project Mask WS

These days, it would be easy to focus on the negative; businesses are either closed or running at reduced capacity, the stock market is down, restaurants are only serving takeout, and social distancing has become the new norm.  But tough times always seem to bring out the best in folks.  So, we hear stories of people rallying together to provide support, goods, and services to those in need, and then there are those in the medical field, well they deserve at the very least a nomination to sainthood.

Melissa Vickers is one such person that saw a need and decided to do something about it.  She ran onto a request from a hospital in Indiana for homemade masks.  They posted a tutorial and a video on how to make them and requested that 200 masks be made and dropped off at the hospital.  That gave Melissa an idea.  With hospitals being the largest employer in Winston-Salem and hearing about shortages in protective gear, she took the skills from her home-based business, recruited Katie Sonnen-Lee and Marissa Joyce, and the three of them launched Project Mask WS.

The Beginning of Project Mask WS

Their first request of 150 masks came from a birthing center at a local hospital, and requests continued to come in and before you knew it, they had a Facebook page and a website; were accepting applications for volunteers to cut, iron, and sew; and had already made thousands of masks.  That is where Ritu Hagan comes in.  “I just filled out a form that I could sew,” said Ritu.  “The next thing I knew I was finding out where to pick up supplies and given the pattern.  That’s really how I got started.”

I spoke with Ritu a couple days ago about her role on the project and what made her reach out to Shores.  Over the course of the conversation, I learned a lot about how the masks are made, how their amazing group of volunteers works, and how great the need still is.

How the Masks are Made

  • As the demand increased, they figured out how to streamline the process, and now they put together kits for assembly.
  • Each volunteer has a specific role: washing and ironing; cutting fabric; assembling and sewing.
  • Each mask is made of two layers of fabric cut into two 6” by 9” rectangles and two elastic or fabric straps.
  • One yard of fabric yields 24 pieces, so it takes 2 yards to make 24 masks.  They only use fabric with a thread count of 180 or higher because that seems to be the most effective.
  • It takes roughly 15 minutes to assemble one mask; that’s just assembly and does not include the time involved in gathering materials, washing, ironing, and cutting.  It is a labor-intensive process.
  • On a side note, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has tested their masks.

Shores and Project Mask WS

Over the last month, they have learned that proper pressing is critical; improper pressing or leaving wrinkles in the fabric can lead to excess waste and scrap.  This is where Shores enters the picture.  “I had yards and yards of fabric to press,” stated Ritu.  “I felt overwhelmed, so I made a phone call.  I figured I would just pay to have it pressed.  I had no idea that within 30 minutes I’d receive a phone call back saying that Shores would press our fabric at no charge for the next 6 weeks. I was moved to tears.”  Because of the number of masks being requested and produced, that amounts to ironing around 600-800 yards of fabric per week for Project Mask WS.

So far, Project Mask WS has made around 35,000 masks, which is absolutely amazing, but requests are still coming in.  They have roughly 13,000 open orders to fill.  “Everyone is looking for masks,” shared Ritu.  “We get requests ranging from 2 to 5,000, and we will continue making them as long as there is a need and a way to help pay for it.”

Shores is honored to play a small role in such an important cause.  Project Mask WS relies on donations and volunteers, so every person or organization helping out plays a vital role in their continued success – which is defined as providing a mask to every person that needs one.  If you’d like to get involved in or contribute to Project Mask WS or if you need masks, just reach out to them on their Facebook page.

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