Free Masketeers help Whidbey cover up and do good
— Created June 3, 2020 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
There is a very dedicated group of volunteers on Whidbey Island who have made it their goal to provide medical-style face masks for every adult and child on the island who needs one.
But this group of “free masketeers” – also known as the Whidbey DIYers – is trying to do even more good. The group will hold a curbside mask distribution from 4 to 7 p.m. today (Thursday) at the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and 100 percent of all donations received will go directly to North Whidbey Help House.
Face coverings have been shown to significantly limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus and are a recommended preventative measure, to be used in conjunction with physical distancing and hand washing/sanitizing. Masks are required if you shop in downtown Langley or if you visit a hair salon or see a doctor. Starting Monday, masks are mandatory for all retailers and employees. So masks have become a much sought-after item.
Whidbey DIYers started because of the initial shortage of personal protective equipment for hospital workers and first responders.
“All the people in the group are volunteers who started using their own personal stash of fabric,” said Valerie Mascho, one of the group’s coordinators and an active duty sailor who also oversees mask distribution on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. “So we started making a bunch of face masks because essential workers were asking for them.”
To date, the 125-plus seamstresses who are a part of Whidbey DIYers have sewn more than 17,000 masks and have distributed them – at no cost – to more than 100 businesses and organizations, including law enforcement, fire departments, medical staff and emergency medical technicians and active duty and civilian personnel on NAS Whidbey Island.
When those needs were satisfied, the group started providing masks to the community at large, but they wanted to see if they could do even more to help.
“It was kind of a natural evolution – we’ve done this, what’s next?” said Jessica Fisher, another Whidbey DIYers coordinator. “The goal became to move on to the rest of the community and figuring out how we could get as many masks to the community as possible. We all agreed we had to help the food banks.”
“We figured the need has increased tenfold with the unemployment situation,” Mascho said. “Pig Fest raised $13,000 for North Whidbey Help House, so one of my personal goals is to raise enough to supplement that.”
“My motto is go big or go home,” laughed Fisher. “None of us imagined it would be like this. We’re going to hit 20,000 handmade masks. We set the goal high, but I don’t think we imagined doing that. Now we’re hoping to raise $25,000 for all of the Whidbey Island food banks, and I think we can.”
Because Whidbey DIYers members live all over the island, organizers decided the best way get masks out to people was to hold distribution drive-throughs at various locations. All donations go to the food bank closest to the site of the drive-through. So far, the drive-through events have raised $14,000; nearly $5,000 of that has gone to North Whidbey Help House.
“I have been so overwhelmed by the generosity; I knew this is a generous community, but this is above and beyond,” said Jean Weiman, executive director of NWHH. “It’s a relief. Not only did we lose Pig Fest but Boeing usually holds a golf tournament that brings in anywhere from $2,000 – $4,000, and that is most likely going to be postponed or canceled. So it took a weight off my shoulders knowing we’re going to survive this year.”
Food banks in Coupeville and Langley have also received donations from the Whidbey DIYers.
“Creative and useful projects like the Whidbey DIYers showcase the very best of community,” said Carol Squire, executive director of Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores in Langley. “It’s a win-win-win: Good Cheer and other essential services get money, the community gets and wears masks, and the project team and community know they are investing their time and money into something that has immediate positive impact.”
Because the local food banks have some purchasing power, the money they receive from mask donations goes a long way toward feeding Whidbey Islanders.
“We can stretch a dollar pretty far,” Squire said. “On average, we calculate one pound of food for every $1.50. We’ve already received over $2,000 from Whidbey DIYers, which comes to over 1,300 pounds of food. That is a lot of food!”
One doesn’t have to be able to sew to be a part of Whidbey DIYers. In all, there are about 900 people who have volunteered for the group in various ways.
“We have as many as 150 seamstresses, but others want to provide materials, cut out patterns or just ask how they can help,” said Mascho. “People have gone and bought us yards of fabric and we’ve been able to maintain that. “
“People donate fabric, elastic, rotary cutter blades, needles, pins,” said Fisher. “We have different drop box points, so people pick and choose what they need. When our seamstresses are done, they drop the finished masks into the basket and we process them.”
Fisher said they wear masks and gloves to handle the finished masks, which are washed, dried, ironed and packaged. It has become an efficient, effective, grassroots supply chain. Volunteers have got the distribution system down to a science. Thursday, cars are asked to enter the distribution site at the Chamber via Izett St. Cash donations are dropped into a donation can (bring the exact amount you want to donate – no change can be given), the vehicles pull up and volunteers will assist with mask selection. Adults can get two masks each, children can get one. All those seeking masks must be present, so they can be visually fitted by volunteers. This is especially important for children.
“We don’t hand the masks – which are in plastic bags – to people until they’ve made their final decision, so it’s as no-contact as we can get it,” said Fisher. “All volunteers wear masks or face shields, and I’ve heard there may or may not be a T-Rex at this event.”
These free masketeer volunteers have worked long and hard to provide for their community and hope the community will return the favor by supporting Whidbey’s food banks. There is no minimum donation required.
If someone only has a dollar to their name but still wants to donate, put a dollar in the bucket,” said Mascho. “We know not everybody has fulltime jobs. We want everyone to have the protection they need.”
“I’ve cried out of pride over this,” admitted Fisher. “I’ve lived here practically my whole life, but I’m not even proud of what I’ve done, I’m proud of what our community has done.”
“The community has pitched in to donate materials to make masks, giving back to those who need them, helping to raise funds for food banks,” said Mascho. “The only thing out of our pocket is our time. A lot of us are happy to spend time doing something we know is making a difference.”
“This whole time we’re going through proves when we are going through something tough, people are willing to take care of their community,” said Weiman. “It’s a big relief.”
Find out more about the Whidbey DIYers on Facebook or go to www.whidbeydiyers.com.