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Mask drive quiet but still meaningful

People deliver masks to Duluth fire station but space out their deliveries.

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Firefighter Jake Matlon places a handful of donated masks into a bin at Duluth Fire Department Station 1 Saturday. On April 18 Gov. Tim Walz launched a statewide homemade mask drive and asked people to drop off donated masks to 778 fire departments across Minnesota. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Downtown Duluth is usually quieter Saturdays, but this weekend it resembled a ghost town as businesses remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic and people continue to hunker down.

So it was no surprise that Gov. Tim Walz’s statewide mask drive wasn’t exactly hopping at Duluth’s fire station headquarters at 602 W. 2nd St. on a sunny day with temperatures in the 40s and a breeze off the lake.

“And honestly, I think that’s good,” Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj said. “It’s hard on people, and it’s certainly hard on business, but I think it really proves the numbers that Minnesota has (in slowing the spread of the virus). The fact that people are following the stay-at-home orders and following the social distancing, that has a direct effect on why we’re leading the country.”

A little more advertising wouldn’t have hurt, either.

The governor enlisted Minnesota’s 778 fire departments, from the big cities to the sparse townships, to take part in the drive. All eight of Duluth’s eight fire stations collected masks from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. In all, more than 3,000 masks were donated.


Krizaj expected Duluth’s neighborhood fire stations to be busier than headquarters downtown.

Krizaj was joined by firefighter Jake Matlon, and a bin was set up just outside the entrance. They had a sign advertising the mask drive near the busy intersection of Second Street and Mesaba Avenue but it mysteriously disappeared.

“We’re thinking that the wind blew it away,” Krizaj said, laughing. “We’re doing the best we can.”

As of noon, they had collected about 200 masks.

A short time later, a woman pulled up in a Toyota Prius.

Mary Scott, who lives just up the street from the Rose Garden, was just dropping off a handful of masks.

“I have more, but I still have to finish them,” she said.

Scott, a seamstress who runs “Sew It Seams” from her home, has been making masks for about a month, first giving them to friends and now donating to others. She said it takes her about 10 to 15 minutes per mask. She said the leftover scraps from her business are perfect for mask making.


“I have tons of fabric, they’re easy to make and people need them,” Scott said.

Saturday was strictly a dropoff day, but there was some confusion, with people occasionally stopping by asking for masks.

The masks dropped off Saturday were a kaleidoscope of color but weren’t just a hodgepodge thrown together. You could tell there was care sewn with every stitch.

“I’ve got to match them so they look nice,” Scott said.

Krizaj was sporting a custom black mask with a fire patch stitched on that his wife, Erin, and daughters Ava, 15, and Leah, 13, made for him.

“Everyone in our family has one,” he said.

One package dropped off Saturday had 100 masks sewn by neighborhood ladies who have been donating masks for a while.

A smaller package was specifically for child sizes and will go to a place with child care; the quality and handiwork clearly on display.


“They’re amazing,” Krizaj said. “We’re just appreciative of whatever the community can give and donate.”

Krizaj was anticipating people wanting to donate after Saturday and said people can call the fire department at (218) 730-4394 or e-mail firedeptinfo@duluthmn.gov. Just call the station before dropping them off.

“We don’t want to turn anybody away,” he said.

So while it wasn’t busy Saturday, Krizaj said, every donation helps. The plan was to distribute the masks next week to local care facilities based on need.

Krizaj was asked if he could see the fire department taking part in another mask drive.

“I would love to say that we wouldn’t need to because it won’t last that long, but that’s hard to say,” he said. “Based on the projections they’re talking about, I could see that.”

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Mary Scott hands Firefighter Jake Matlon a handful of homemade masks Saturday outside Duluth Fire Department Station 1. "I have a ton of fabric, they're easy to make and people need them," Scott said. As the owner of Sew It Seams she said she was glad to make use of fabric scraps for the cause. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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