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Daily Journal
     April 1, 2020      #95-92 KDJ
 

Crafters answer call of mask shortages 

Tiffany Blanchette
tblanchette@daily-journal.com


From hospitals to fire departments, nursing homes to emergency rooms, a nationwide shortage of Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, has created a need for local efforts to make cloth masks for donation.

The Kankakee Mask Makers answered that call for Kankakee County.

Started as a Facebook page on March 20, but now operating as a group titled Kankakee Mask Makers II, April Kegg, of Bourbonnais, has helped coordinate the efforts and needs in the area.

Kegg arrived Saturday at Riverside Medical Center to donate more than 300 of one type of mask she and her husband, Darryl, have been making — laser cut polypropylene mask protectors.

The couple, who recently opened Custom Lasercrafting in Northfield Square Mall, have been using their equipment to create the easily sanitizable and more durable polypropylene masks, which are worn outside the N95 masks and aim to prolong its use.

According to the template creator, Eric Allen, of Manhattan, the hope is to prolong each N95 mask’s use by up to 300 percent, especially for workers asked to wear the same mask for an entire day or longer, he wrote on the GoFundMe page created for supply donations.

But before the lasercrafting movement reached the Keggs, April, a longtime crafter, began sewing masks made of cotton and flannel, as requested by many organizations, and helped to streamline Kankakee County’s effort through the Facebook group “Kankakee Mask Makers II,” an offshoot of the page first created by Kankakee Area Jaycees president Amber Cahue to initiate the effort.

The group facilitates the sharing of information, such as correct patterns and materials, as well as guidelines from healthcare organizations. It also allows for more conversation and coordination between members, April said, like sharing of materials, organizing porch pick-ups and drop-offs or letting the makers know of an organization in need.

Though hospital workers on the front lines don’t use them in direct contact cases, the cloth masks are still in high demand.

Being able to give one to staff or patients going home for them to use in place of the ones we need here, it helps,” said Riverside Medical Center’s emergency preparedness coordinator Cassie Carlson. “The more we receive and the more we have in stock, the more comfortable we feel. They have all been rock stars helping us out.”

Nearing 150 members, the group’s effort has spread across the county since the initial page was created 12 days ago.

“It’s more than just me,” April said. “Everyone that can has been stepping up.”

Crafters, new and veteran, young and old, have been trying their hand at contributing to the cause.

The effort also includes another local group, The Quiltmakers of Kankakee, led out of Calvary Bible Church in Bourbonnais.

With craft stores like JoAnn’s Fabric, which was providing pre-cut supplies for masks, ordered closed and other essential stores’ staff busy with restocking efforts, getting a hold of materials quickly may be a challenge going forward, Bourbonnais resident Becky Wunsh said.

Wunsh and Kegg, the duo behind craft vendor Two Crafty Ladies, agreed they couldn’t imagine doing anything else with their “post-apocalyptic skill” of sewing.

“If I have access to the supplies to make something our front line workers need, then why not do it,” Wunsh said.

“If we can’t be the person on the front line, we can be the people behind the front line,” April said. “It’s the least we can do.”

How to help

Join the Kankakee Mask Makers II page to find the guidelines on how to make the masks or offer extra supplies on hand, such as cotton, clean T-shirts, thread, 1/8-inch elastic and flannel, which is used for filter layers. Makers are now creating headbands with buttons as well.

Find Riverside's guidelines for PPE and homemade mask donations at riversidehealthcare.org/patients-and-visitors/covid-19/ppe-supply-donations

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Tiffany Blanchette