Armed with fabric and elastic, Northland residents have launched grassroots efforts to create and collect face masks for health care workers.

As the demand for masks for health care staff increases with the spread of COVID-19, one Duluth business is encouraging the creation of homemade masks and collecting them for donation. And a new organization, which formed Monday, is streamlining the mask donation process by mobilizing donations and volunteers.

Retired dressmaker Patty Sampson decided to use her 44 years of sewing skills to help.

“I've been sitting around doing nothing and when there was an opportunity to be helpful, I jumped at it,” Sampson said. “It feels good to be helpful and to have something to do while we’re in our homes.”

So far, Sampson has made around 60 masks that she donated to Hannah Johnson Fabrics. The Lakeside neighborhood business then donates these masks to health care facilities. It's also providing the patterns and products needed to make them, owner Janet Anelli said.

Click here to find a pattern for cloth face masks (PDF)

Masks made with fabric don’t replace respiratory N95 masks that can filter out bacteria. Instead, they’re used to cover N95 masks, preserving them for longer use.

Anelli estimates they’ve already donated a couple hundred masks to area hospitals, including St. Luke’s and Essentia Health, and have plans to continue as long as masks are needed.

“It's just been a whirlwind,” she said. “It's just giving people a sense of purpose.”

People can pick up patterns located on the store's outside door, where donors can also leave completed masks. Although the store is closed, fabric and face mask kits are available for order at hannahjohnsonfabrics.com.

A finished cloth mask at the home of Patty Sampson in Duluth.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
A finished cloth mask at the home of Patty Sampson in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

People should use 100% cotton fabric to create masks, after first washing and drying the fabric, Anelli said.

Using her skills from dressmaking, Sampson said she’s able to mass produce masks. To pay for fabric, she set up a GoFundMe online fundraising campaign that raised over $100 for fabric.

Sewing masks not only allows her to help out during the pandemic, but it also aids with human connection during self-isolation.

“It makes me feel connected to people, even though we're all separated,” Sampson said.

For Chelsea Bartels, making masks is normalizing life in self-isolation for her nieces and nephews. They make five to 10 masks a day.

Bartels started making them after hearing a St. Luke’s staff member say there was a need for masks.

“I have some sewing skills, but not the greatest,” she said. “(I) just found a pattern online that resembled what they were asking for, and then just started making them.”

Janet Anelli, of Duluth, owner of Hannah Johnson Fabrics, hands a customer a kit for making masks at her Lakeside store Monday afternoon. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Janet Anelli, of Duluth, owner of Hannah Johnson Fabrics, hands a customer a kit for making masks at her Lakeside store Monday afternoon. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

On Monday, the St. Luke’s Foundation said it has enough masks should a need arise. Although still accepting masks, it encourages people to donate them instead to people living in congregated living facilities, according to a statement from the foundation.

“The outpouring of support from so many individuals has been more than we could have ever asked for. Our hearts are overwhelmed by your generous support and rapid response and we are amazed by the volume of donations in only a matter of days from cities and towns throughout the region,” a statement from the foundation reads.

The hospital still needs full face shields, Tyvek coveralls and N95 masks — a need that a new Twin Ports group is hoping to help fill.

The Twin Ports Mask Brigade, made up of volunteers, is collecting and distributing unused masks to health care providers, organizer Elena Bantle said.

It’s urging people to donate their N95 respirator masks, which may have been purchased for painting projects, drywall construction or to block fumes, as well as dust “nuisance” masks, according to a news release.

N95 masks should be with health care staff, as they work close to the virus every day, Bantle said.

Patty Sampson of Duluth sews a cloth face mask at her home in Duluth Monday afternoon. Sampson is one of many volunteers making masks for hospitals and clinic during the pandemic. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Patty Sampson of Duluth sews a cloth face mask at her home in Duluth Monday afternoon. Sampson is one of many volunteers making masks for hospitals and clinic during the pandemic. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

If people find unused masks in their homes, no matter how many, they can fill out a form on the website, sites.google.com/view/twinportsmaskbrigade/home. A volunteer will then be dispatched to pick up the masks.

“That’s the sort of thing that the city or the hospitals don't have the capacity to be (doing) — running around picking up those small donations,” Bantle said.

Health care providers can connect with the brigade by filling out a form on its website.

Businesses are looking to help out as well. Duluth’s Frost River Trading is hoping to use its computerized equipment, production facilities and skilled sewing staff to make personal protection equipment instead of its usual canvas packs, according to a news release.

Its owner, Christian Benson, is reaching out to local and state manufacturers, like 3M, to establish partnerships. Frost River needs patterns and medical-grade material to make the equipment.

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