Santa Barbara Sewing Circles Make Face Masks for the Millions

Volunteers Give Away Critically Needed Protection to Hospitals and Neighbors

Marian Shapiro models one of the 170 facemasks she has made and given away. | Credit: Courtesy

“I feel so happy that I can do something to help,” Marian Shapiro said, a feeling she shares with dozens of women busy at their sewing machines all over the county who are making critically needed face masks. Shapiro’s creations, 170 so far, have three layers of 100 percent woven cotton and one layer of knit. “The knit is different and a bit of a filter,” said Shapiro, who’s also added a twist tie at the nose and a pocket for a coffee filter, paper towel, or tissue for additional filtration against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus ravaging the world.

Shapiro is one of a loosely knit group of people around town who have been sewing and giving away masks to Cottage Hospital, Planned Parenthood, homeless people, and B’nai B’rith. These volunteers have formed an informal group, helping one another. When Shapiro’s sewing machine began to break down, when she began to run out of elastic, when she needed groceries,  friends — some old and some new — stepped in to help — loaning a sewing machine, sharing materials, even delivering groceries. 


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The Bucket Brigade is hoping to energize these volunteer sewing circles by offering a challenge: Become the “Rockstar of Sewing.” According to the Brigade’s Keith Hamm, a former Independent reporter, the challenge offers small prizes to prime mask producers, working from the safety of home — and provides material, elastic, and thread for about 20 masks at a time.

Anneliese Place started sewing masks because she was ready to freak out, she said, after learning that  her daughter, a surgeon at Walter Reed medical hospital in Washington, D.C., had to use the same mask over and over again. “They’re rationed. She was taking it home in a paper bag,” Place said, in an incredulous whisper. “I decided to make one.” Another daughter worked at a veterinarian office in Santa Barbara, and they didn’t have masks either.

Through San Roque’s NextDoor app, Place asked for fabric, “and everyone in San Roque started donating.” She and her daughter began to pick up material, make the masks, and put them in people’s mailboxes. Place created a website, where people can request masks and offer to help or provide materials.

“It’s really cool,” Place said. “So many women have come together as a group, but we don’t know each other. We haven’t seen each other except to wave through a window!” 

Photo: courtesyMarian’s Masks

Place said she took a couple hundred to Valle Verde retirement village, 40 to businesses, 100 to a man who was giving them to homeless people. “Now you can’t get into a grocery store without a mask.” 

New studies show the virus lingers in the air from simply breathing and yawning, and masks help contain the aerosolized germs. Santa Barbara public health officials have asked residents to wear masks to suppress the virus. 

“They help us keep from infecting other people. If everybody wears them, it would be like using a condom and taking the pill,” said Lee Heller, who is shepherding supplies between several sewing circles. “You have protection on both sides and that would increase your prophylaxis!”

In the Czech Republic, for instance, nearly the entire country of 11 million was wearing them within three days of a mask-wearing edict, thanks to home sewing. It’s credited with taming COVID-19 cases, though the Czechs continue to suffer, as does the rest of the world.

As well as on YouTube, the Centers for Disease Control offers advice on mask making that the mask-makers have cited as a starting place. And once they’re made, Cottage welcomes donations of medical supplies and homemade masks at its Goleta hospital parking lot: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. In the Santa Ynez Valley, residents can contact June Martin to arrange for pickup. Likewise, the county gratefully accepts medical supply donations at Foodbank distribution sites, which are listed here, and is in the process of hiring a coordinator to organize the many sewing groups that have sprung up.

“One mask could save a life,” said Anneliese Place. “That’s what it’s really come down to.”

Editor’s Note: June Martin’s contact information was removed on April 20 as she is no longer able to collect donations.


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