Volunteers working to make thousands of face masks for Baldwin City residents

photo by: Submitted photo

Volunteers are sewing face masks, such as the two pictured here Saturday, April 18, 2020, with the goal of producing 5,000 to distribute to individuals and businesses in the Baldwin City area.

After spending Saturday morning volunteering at the Baldwin City food pantry, Nancy Arnold was planning to spend the afternoon helping to make the community safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The retired school teacher said she would be sitting in front of her mother’s old sewing machine, making use of skills she learned in her high school home economics class to produce face masks designed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. She is one of 29 volunteers making masks in the Face Masks for Baldwin City project.

“I gave away from 30 to 40 this morning at the food pantry,” she said. “… It’s a great project.”

Face Masks for Baldwin City is the brainchild of Jeannette Blackmar, executive director of the Lumberyard Arts Center, who enlisted the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce, Baldwin City Public Library and Quilters’ Paradise to help with the project.

“I was inspired when I learned there were people out there making masks,” she said. “I thought the Lumberyard Arts Center could coordinate and promote it. Our goal is to make 5,000 face masks for the community.”

That should provide enough masks for individuals needing them in the Baldwin City area, as well as for local businesses that are requesting them for employees, Blackmar said. But she said more volunteers are needed to reach the goal. As of Friday, the end of the project’s first full week, volunteers had made 236 face masks, she said.

The masks are made from a pattern provided by LMH Health that conforms to standards of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Blackmar said. Most of the masks consist of two layers of cotton cloth, although some add a third layer, she said.

One of the local volunteers, Quilters’ Paradise owner Sharon Vesecky, was already making face masks before the project started.

“I had planned on doing other things during this time, but the masks kind of took over,” she said. “I started making them for my family, and then a nurse friend called, and I and started making them for her group at her hospital. It just kind of mushroomed.”

Vesecky said she has become adept at crafting the masks.

“I have five more stitches, and then I will have finished my 200th,” she said. “When I clocked myself, it took six minutes to make a mask. Cutting material and organizing takes additional time.”

Vesecky helped kickstart the project with a donation of cloth from her “personal stash” and from material from her shop had already unrolled from bolts. One of the fabric companies that supplies her shop also donated two bolts of cloth, she said.

“I have no idea how much I donated,” she said. “It won’t be enough.”

Blackmar said the Lumberyard is looking for donations to buy more fabric and is seeking a grant from the Douglas County Community Foundation to buy more supplies.

Although Blackmar said the ultimate goal of the project is to help keep the community safe during the pandemic, it also happens to fit in with the arts center’s creative mission.

“We see it as a community arts project,” she said. “We have hundreds of fabrics. We encourage people to be playful and creative.”

Those interested in volunteering to make face masks should call the arts center at 785-594-3186. Blackmar said volunteers would be provided with kits to sew masks, but would be free to use their own materials.

Businesses can request masks over the phone and soon will be able to apply online at the Lumberyard’s website, lumberyardartscenter.org. Blackmar also said residents will be informed of distribution sites once a larger inventory of masks is available.

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