Sew4ZeroWaste Helps Coordinate Orcas Mask Makers

Sewing face masks during COVID-19

Sew4ZeroWaste is a sewing and recycling craft workshop run by Asifa Pasin, a Board Member at ORS/The Exchange. The group has recently pivoted their focus and has been providing PPE for our local Island community. 

It all began back in March as local hospice care nurse, Debra O’Conner, voiced a desperate need for PPE isolation gowns and face masks for the hospice and caregiver community. Orcas medical professionals had only a small supply reserved for staff and patients and there was nothing available for purchase online. SEW4ZeroWaste, a Workshop I run that is supported by ORS/The Exchange stepped up and began to construct isolation gowns locally using plastic bag liners. A very small crew sewed about 280 isolation gowns to fulfill the urgent request and helped to meet the immediate need in the community.

Honestly, it was strange and somewhat uncomfortable for me to be sewing with plastic! Sew4ZeroWaste focuses on making reusable bags using recycled materials to save the earth from toxic plastic. Oh, the irony!

In April, an equally important need presented itself as the CDC recommended everyone wear a cloth face mask. SEW4ZeroWaste got to work and began sewing face masks in many different shapes, sizes and designs. Michele Keyes even created a design with a filter pocket and we partnered with her very dedicated group of volunteers to sew masks for essential workers and other high-risk Orcas residents.

This proved to be a huge undertaking but we began to realize there were many others on the island also sewing masks. On behalf of ORS, I consulted with Nancy Schafer’s West Sound Mask-Makers’ group and Mary Gropp’s volunteers and we decided to combine our efforts. Many other amazingly talented and dedicated individuals and groups have now joined forces with us. This growth has resulted in a collaboration of volunteers called the Orcas Mask Makers United and includes any person (or group) who wants to join us in making masks for our community.

Our individually, clean-bagged face masks are available at Island Hardware & Supply, Ray’s Pharmacy and the Orcas Food Co-op. These masks are available at no cost to islanders who need them. We gratefully accept donations to cover the expenses of our materials through the OICF Community Emergency Response Fund. The Fund has received hundreds of contributions and has provided much needed “financial resources to the  organizations that provide critical services: food, shelter, utility, medical and mental health assistance.” It has also been able to meet many needs that have risen due to the COVID-19 crisis.

To date, Orcas Mask Makers United has made approximately 800 masks! We will continue to sew masks through the summer to maintain a supply for islanders and to create a large supply for students, teachers and staff when school resumes in the fall. Additionally, San Juan County’s recent mandate requiring the public to wear face masks in all indoor spaces will likely cause a rise in demand for cloth masks.

This is obviously a tall order and we NEED HELP SEWING!  Here’s how you can help:
– To sew or donate fabric and/or supplies, contact Nancy Schafer at orcasmaskmakers@gmail.com.
– If you are an islander in need of masks, contact Mary Gropp at Masks4Orcas@gmail.com.
– Need to borrow a sewing machine to help make masks? Contact Asifa@Exchangeorcas.org.

“The communities and people that will emerge from [COVID-19] in the best shape emotionally are those that channel the uncertainty and fear towards kindness, patience, and decency – and not use this as an opportunity for bitterness, anger, or shaming.” – Brendan Cowan

We are truly grateful to all who have worked tirelessly to make masks for our community and to all of you who have supported our efforts so far!

The Exchange is Open - with Some Changes!

Drop-off days: Friday & Sunday (closed to shoppers) - RESERVATION REQUIRED

Shopping days: Thursday, Saturday, & Monday - Facial coverings required; Foot traffic may be limited

The Transfer Station is open normal hours: Thursday-Monday 10am-4pm