Many in the community have found a creative way to splash a little color into everyday life at a time when those around them are seeking anything that might brighten their mood.
These volunteers have put needle to fabric, churning out non-medical, cloth masks by the dozens. Some have sewn hundreds and a few are approaching a thousand, donating their free time and fantastic talents to help others stay safe at a time when a dangerous coronavirus pandemic is spreading across the country.
They may not block COVID-19 like the N95 respirators and surgical mask personal protective equipment that are used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including coronavirus (COVID-19). Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidelines.
The CDC recommends that members of the public use simple cloth face coverings when in a public setting to slow the spread of the virus, since this will help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, the CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions, such as hand washing and maintaining at least 6 feet of social distancing, to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases.
Ladysmith resident Barb Popp continues to sew masks in her spare time, mainly for her family and their co-workers at ACE Hardware in the city. She knows she is helping protect store workers as well as customers they are there to help
“I am doing this because they are family,” Popp said. “It makes me feel good, but it is still scary they have to wear them because of what is going on”
Her husband, Ted, and her two daughters, Alyssa and Mikayla, work at the store. The business remains open and quite busy, face-to-face with customers at the cash registers and in the aisles.
“I have had a lot of people say they appreciate us wearing them,” said Kari Mulholland, an employee at the store. “We do have a lot of elderly customers who come into the store.”
Popp, who taught herself to sew, wanted to give back to the store, she said has always been there for her family. She is now at 71 masks sewn and still counting.
“People in the community have asked if I had extras and if they could have some,” Popp said.
Ted and Barb Popp recently lost their oldest daughter, Mariah, to cancer.
“I don’t want any of the employees to lose someone, so this is my way of helping them,” Popp said.
The masks are simple creations, mostly fabric, flannel, elastic and thread.
As a growing legion of mask-makers churn out the masks, creating other shortages such as elastic for the ear pieces that hold the masks to the wearer’s face. Popp has found a work around for the elastic, taking baby headbands and trimming off the bow.
“It works,” Popp said.
Each mask takes about 15 minutes to complete, according to Popp.
Start to finish takes Popp 15 to 20 minutes, so she has logged nearly 20 hours making masks.
“The longest part is sewing it. Cutting the materials is easy. It takes a bit, but it gives me something to do,” Popp said.
Christina Armstrong Wester of Ladysmith, has sewn masks for friends, family and staff for the safety of others.
“When others are wearing masks they are protecting you from their germs. You may not know you have come in contact with an infected individual, so it is best to be prepared,” said Wester, an essential health care provider.
She actively promotes washing hands and sanitizing surfaces, realizing nothing is completely safe with health care staff always coming and going. “We are doing the best we can with all safety measures,” she added.
“I need to do what I can not to bring contagion in my own home,” Wester said. “When I see someone wearing a mask, I feel it is a safer zone for all who enter.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended April 3 that citizens should wear “non-medical, cloth masks” to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Previously, the CDC had recommended only those with Covid-19 symptoms wear masks. The agency now recommends those who aren’t feeling sick should still wear a mask, though compliance is voluntary.
In a statement on its website, the CDC says: “Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.”
The word “additional” is key as sheltering in place is still the most effective way for individuals to protect themselves and those in the community. The agency recommends maintaining 6-foot social distancing as the primary method of reducing exposure.
CDC continues to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus across the U.S. Recent studies show a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms, or are “asymptomatic,” and even those who eventually develop symptoms, or who are “pre-symptomatic,” can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity —for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing — even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
“It is critical to emphasize maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus,” the site also states. “CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”
The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.
A fabric face covering won’t protect you from getting Covid-19 but might help prevent you from spreading the virus if you must leave the house.
Area residents help
Ladysmith resident Marita Leeder has made nearly 100 masks already for her family and for staff at Ladysmith Care Community. She plans to make 200 total. She volunteers for the facility’s auxiliary and is happy to help.
She is making the masks because there is a need for them right now, and she loves to help people. She is glad she can do it and loves to sew.
“This has been great. It gives me something to do,” Leeder said.
Due to the pandemic, the facility only allows in staff and residents so Leeder and other auxiliary members are finding other creative ways to help. In her case, Leeder found a few patterns and got busy sewing in an effort she compares to the “war effort” of the 1940s when everyone pitched in.
“I am so thankful I can do it. I am so glad I can help,” Leeder said.
Bruce residents Don and Jeanette Hoffelt have worked together to complete 150 masks so far, donating them to Flambeau Hospital in Park Falls and Marshfield Clinic and Ladysmith Fresh Market. They said anyone who expressed a need also was given a mask with some picked up and others mailed out.
Jeanette, owner of Jeanette’s Creations and Alterations, thanked local businesses for helping, citing donations of cloth from Walmart in Ladysmith and members of the community and elastic from Artisans in Glen Flora.
“When I had no elastic, I used my stash of elastic lace. It’s functional and pretty,” she said. “Thanks to the community for coming together and making this happen.”
The Hoffelts donated all their masks. They just ask recipients to pay it forward.
“All I want to do is eliminate the spread and suffering,” Hoffelt said.
Astrid Held-Tucker, of Ladysmith, has produced 175 masks so far. She has given them to neighbors, Marshfield Clinic; Connections Food Pantry staff and medical transport personnel and their patients. She also has donated them to Ladysmith Family Restaurant staff.
She hopes to donate some soon to Flambeau Village Apartments residents. She has had requests for many more.
“We are so grateful for our little community, and only want to repay the love and concern that is shared in this community. We are happy to help answer the need,” Held-Tucker said
Ladysmith resident Janet Conrad, who works at Weather Shield Manufacturing in the city, is donating 450 masks for employees at both Ladysmith and Park Falls factories. The plant manager knew she sewed and hoped she’d help. She did, along with her husband, Clif Clifford, who is doing all the fabric cutting and turning the masks right-side-out.
Over Easter, she was busy sewing. Cliff was by her side, helping.
“It makes me feel like I am doing my part,” Conrad said. “We can’t do enough to help.”
The Conrads both work at Weather Shield and are grateful for all they have done to keep workers safe.
“Any case we can prevent is worth it,” Conrad said.
Hawkins resident Patti LeMay has produced 22 masks, mostly for co-workers at Ladysmith Fresh Market.
A special mask showing the image of a happy face with a cartoon-like grin she saved for herself.
“I also made one for myself,” LeMay said. “I wanted to bring a smile to the faces of our stressed out customers and workers.”
Ladysmith resident Sandra Richer has crafted 442 masks, donating them to the hospital, police department, Greenwood Manor, Ladysmith Care Community, Rusk Haven Apartments, friends and family. She plans to keep at it as long as the material keeps coming in, thinking she might be able to make 840 masks in total.
A classmate from her hometown, Tomah, asked Richer if she could hire her to sew masks.
“I said if she will donate money for material I will donate my time. She has the money, and I don’t. I can sew, and she can’t. So here we are working as a team,” Richer said.
She isn’t making money, freely giving her time. Some people have donated money to her for masks, which she puts toward supplies for making even more masks.
“We should all jump in and serve where we can,” Richer said. “The Bible says work as though you are working for the Lord, as we are.
Help knows no borders
Ladysmith resident Peggy Novak has made 40 masks, and she’s still making them for Marshfield Clinic, friends, daughter and co-workers at Target in Eau Claire and family in South Carolina and Nevada.
“I’m retired and this is something I can do while I am safer at home,” Novak said.
Rachel (Lundgren) Browne lives in Mankato, Minn., but has relatives in Rusk County and other parts of the nation. She has sewn 40 masks to help ensure her family members’ good health.
“I sewed masks for my sister, Alice Winchel and grand-niece Anna; my brother, Scott Lundgren and friend, Erik, all from Sheldon,” she said.
Her brother, Bryce Lundgren in New Hampshire; daughter and son-in-law, Kasey and Jake Kane of Minneapolis, Minn.; her son, Piet Browne, as well as herself and husband, Donn have benefited from Browne’s volunteer effort.
Dunn County resident Angela Rebak also has helped keep Rusk County safe by crafting numerous masks and sending them this direction. She coaches bowling and her teams have competed against Ladysmith. She also grew up in nearby Birchwood, where she owned a beauty shop for many years and watched her son graduate from Bruce High School.
For motivation she looks to her mother, Nina Disimone, a Birchwood resident who has been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.
“She was my inspiration,” Rebak said.
Rebak, owner of Whitetail Organics Farm and Greenhouse, already has produced 880 masks, donating fabric, materials and her time on her own personal sewing machine. She said she won’t quit until she runs out of supplies. She has shipped more than 100 packages so far.
Last week Marshfield Medical Center-Ladysmith staff picked up a full bin of masks from its donation site at Ladysmith Fresh Market. The masks will be disinfected and distributed to patients to help provide a protective barrier.
“We are in awe and incredibly grateful for this community,” Communications Specialist Rebecca Baader said. “Thank you for the ongoing support from the community and to each person who helped to create these.”