The crooked stitches, uneven pleats and other minor imperfections almost prevented Heather Holmes from continuing to sew fabric face masks.
But the co-director of Western Oregon University’s DeafBlind Interpreting National Training and Resource Center thought about her wife who has asthma, their aging parents, their friends with underlying health conditions, and their friends who are pregnant.
“I decided that if making imperfect masks was the only way I could share a part of myself with each of them during this scary time, then giving my love had to be more important than perfect technique,” Holmes said.
Many people in the WOU community are using their time to sew and donate fabric face masks to friends, family members, WOU employees, hospitals, nursing homes, first responders and others after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people wear a mask in public to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Kathleen Kenyon is an instructor in WOU’s Division of Deaf Studies and Professional Studies. When she sees someone at the grocery store without a mask, she offers them one that she has made. She also has donated masks to people working with homeless community members.
“I was inspired to sew the masks by the desire to be a helper during a crisis, and I’ve been inspired by helpers before me all my life,” Kenyon said.
Executive Assistant to the President LouAnn Vickers has sewn masks for her friends, her family and the staff at the medical clinic where her daughter is a nurse.
“I think we all feel helpless in many ways right now,” Vickers said. “It’s comforting to feel like I can be helpful in some small way. Sewing is a relaxing hobby for me, so it’s been very therapeutic to spend time on the weekends and evenings making masks that I can give away to help others.”
Ironically, she added, she had two fellow seamstresses give her a mask. “It was a wonderful gift because I hadn’t taken time to make one for myself,” she said.
Writing and linguistics Professor Cornelia Paraskevas started sewing masks after her neighbors mentioned they could not find any. Since then, she has gifted more than 25 masks to friends and family members.
“I want to make sure my community is healthy, and I want to do as much as I can to ensure this health,” Paraskevas said.
WOU aluma Irene Barnes ’59 has made more than 50 masks that she has given to the Rosewood Retirement Center Hillsboro, to her friends and to her family.
“When I learned there was a need for masks, it was just a natural thing for me to do to make them,” Barnes said. “Whenever I deliver them to people, they get excited and are thankful for the masks. There are lots of people who don’t have the access to them or the skills to make them. I have plenty of fabric, so it’s no cost to me to make them.”
Kendrea Beers told her parents, Ted and Marion Beers, and her husband, Gabriel Kulp, that for her recent 21st birthday she wanted to sew masks because it’s something concrete they can do to help others.
“Together, we transformed our living room into ‘mask central,’ and we spent a busy day getting our assembly line figured out,” said Ted Beers, who is an instructor in WOU’s Computer Science Division. “We haven’t finished yet the dozen or so we’ve started, but we’re determined.”
WOU English instructor Maren Bradley Anderson was inspired by her youngest daughter to make masks. Her daughter told her that if the avatars on Roblox, a video game, were wearing masks, well then, they need to make masks for their friends and family.
“When I run out of people that I know who need them, I’ll be donating them to a hospital,” she said. “Medical workers can use the masks over their surgical masks for added protection.”
Elizabeth Dexter-Wilson is the internship coordinator and an assistant professor for WOU’s Division of Health and Exercise Science. She has always admired and gained inspiration from people who volunteer their expertise during times of crisis.
“When COVID-19 arrived, I so much wanted to help but didn’t really see any place for me to fit in,” she said.
Using her sewing skills to make homemade masks provided her a way to help. She has made a few masks for family members. If someone needs a mask, they are encouraged to contact her
“I certainly have enough fabric scraps to make many more,” she said. “I’m also happy to sew anything else that is needed such as masks, gowns or caps.”
Director of WOU Campus Dining Albert Worotikan inspired his wife and owner of Majestic Batiks, Reba Worotikan, to make masks for his employees. She also has made masks for family members who are first responders and community members.
“My hope is for each person to have two masks that they swap out each day, washing between uses and four filters that they set in a dry place for three days between each use,” Reba Worotikan said. “It is nice to be able to help during this difficult time, and also it is encouraging to see communities pulling together to make it happen.”
Holmes appreciates the help she has received from her son and wife to make the masks.
“In a time when we have to be 6 feet from people we love and hugs aren’t an option, masks are just a tiny way to remind people we love them and want to keep them safe,” she said.