homemade masks created for Masks for the Frontlines

Masks for the Frontlines | The Helpers Next Door

Apr 7, 2020  | 101

by Deb Herbold

With a talent for organization, and a heart longing to help, Jess Mazour felt she had a role to play in helping solve the COVID-19 crisis. Inspired by her friend, an emergency room nurse in need of more masks, Jess started a Facebook group called Masks for the Frontlines Iowa. In just over two weeks’ time, the group had nearly 3000 members. The goal is to match those in need of masks to those who can sew them. It’s a grassroots way of skirting the mainstream mask chaos and focusing on keeping Iowa’s frontline workers and healthcare professionals safe so they can protect our communities. Jess gave us some insight into how the group works and what keeps her going.

What’s your process?
I can’t sew, but I knew I had the organizational skills to match orders and needs to sewers who could create them. This volunteer project has grown so fast. It kind of has an energy of its own now. We want to be nimble enough to respond to specific needs across the state, but also efficient.

On the Facebook page, there is a mask request form. Then we use an online sign-up sheet to inform sewers of the requests they can fill. We put a call out for delivery drivers, which helps us get masks out across the state as quickly as possible. When we were just starting, we had 17 people volunteer in two days’ time. Some masks are mailed too.

As of April 3, our hundreds of sewers have completed over 4500 masks. But the orders are increasing daily. Right now, 14,613 masks are still in the request queue.

How can people contribute to the project?
If you can sew, you can help. If you can drive deliveries, you can help. If you can donate funds for supplies, or the materials themselves, you can help.

Right now, our sewers are using their own materials — elastic is the new toilet paper. We’re having to be really innovative regarding that.

Soon, we will be launching a donation process that hopefully allows us to work with local businesses like sewing and quilting shops. Our goal is to help support local businesses while also giving much-needed materials to our volunteer sewers.

Are there specific supplies required?
Yes. On the Facebook page, we have information in the “announcements” section listed on the left. The actual material for the masks needs to be 100% tightly woven cotton (like quilting cotton). We supply sewing patterns, too. There are lots of tips and feedback on the page from group members — lessons learned as we’ve gone through the process.

Besides providing masks to the frontline workers, what are the deeper goals of the project?
We want to help flatten the curve. We want different organizations with different needs to be able to look to us to meet their expectations. We want to keep everyone safe — including ourselves. This is an Iowa effort and we’re so proud of everyone who has stepped up to show that Iowans always pull together in a time of need.

Why is this successful?
At this point in the COVID-19 crisis, people are looking for something to do. There’s certainly fear and uncertainty, but doing something helps. Using our energy to help others helps us.

How can you inspire others right now?
There’s a role for all of us to play. Step up. Find your talent.

How can you benefit someone else? Is it sewing masks? Is it delivering masks? Or maybe it’s just calling in and checking on someone. You could offer to grocery shop for a neighbor or friend. Keeping yourself, your families and communities safe is the goal. And if you don’t need to leave your home to do that, even better. Just doing something is so satisfying and healing.


Note: Masks for the Frontlines Iowa is a Facebook group, so folks will need to request to join it. The page administrators (who include Jess) will approve member requests so more Iowans can join in their mask-making mission. Photos courtesy of members of the Masks for the Frontlines group.