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Helpers pose with several bolts of fabric donated by Portal Way Church of Christ to be used to make masks. Photo courtesy of Jolene McMillan of Ferndale

Ferndale volunteers busy sewing masks for medical workers

FERNDALE, Wash. — Several people in the Ferndale area have joined a grassroots volunteer effort to fill an expected void in the supply of masks needed by front-line healthcare workers as the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to continue spreading through Whatcom County.

News reports are full of stories about how orders for standard masks by medical facilities across the country are on back-ordered, due to both demand and supply chain issues.

In the face of what appears to be a widespread shortage of masks for healthcare workers, several Ferndale area people took to their sewing machines and started sewing some of the different styles of fabric masks.

Completed homemade fabric masks. Photo courtesy of Jolene McMillan of Ferndale
Completed homemade fabric masks. Photo courtesy of Jolene McMillan of Ferndale

At the same time, Jennifer Jones, a Bellingham marketer and sewing hobbyist started making masks herself and shared the idea with friends. Jones said within 24 hours she was being contacted by many sewists from around the county. So she began organizing what has become a growing volunteer effort that’s producing and distributing hundreds of fabric masks for area healthcare workers.

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Jones said the interest coming out of Ferndale was “huge,” estimating there were at least 25 or 30 volunteer sewists in the Ferndale area.

Ferndale volunteer, Jolene McMillan, said she embraced the opportunity as one way to give to the community in a way that her daughters could participate. “They spent 3 hours straight today working on this and they are getting a lot of it.”

McMillan said Portal Way Church of Christ donated several bolts of fabric. “That was an incredible amount of fabric and so appreciated,” McMillan said.

Jones said the process is simple, “They [the sewists] take a kit. They make 10 masks. They bring them back.” She has begun feeding that interest by locating more fabric and elastic and then assembling those into kits to give to the sewists.

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The process also includes laundering the fabric before making the masks and then laundering and sanitizing the masks after they are complete.

Another Ferndale member, Kim Brunelle Kuehnel, recently partnered with the Ferndale Laundry to provide the washing and sanitizing while also providing a staging area for incoming and outgoing fabric, kits and masks.

Ferndale Laundry Co-Owner Mike Cox poses with bags of fabric destined to be made into face masks by Ferndale area volunteer sewists (March 25, 2020). Photo courtesy Kim Brunelle Kuehnel
Ferndale Laundry Co-Owner Mike Cox poses with bags of fabric destined to be made into face masks by Ferndale area volunteer sewists (March 25, 2020). Photo courtesy Kim Brunelle Kuehnel

Jones said they have been actively contacting healthcare facilities and social services agencies to locate the need. “We are sending these masks out to the littlest nursing homes on up to the hospital in Bellingham and the many in between.”

When asked how many masks they have distributed so far, Jones said it never occurred to her to count but she guessed about 600. She noted the rate of mask production is growing, estimating they probably had another 200 masks nearly ready to distribute with hundreds more in process.

Anyone who wants to join the effort, Jones said, can reach out via the Whatcom Mask Collective group on Facebook.

Opportunities exist for those without the ability to sew too. Jones said they are in need of the following.

  • new sources of elastic – 1/2″ or smaller
  • 100% cotton fabric
  • sewing supplies like needles and rotary cutters.

Financial aid for the effort can be also provided via a GoFundMe account set up by Jones. This is to raise money to purchase materials and supplies.

Officials with PeaceHealth St Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham have encouraged mask makers to follow the directions presented in the following video.


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