Masks with Meaning

In our current world, it can be difficult to find some much needed light and positivity. However, with communities coming together and individuals helping make a difference, acts of kindness and generosity are helping serve as pleasant reminders of how we as a society are unifying.

With this in mind, we reached out to locals helping alleviate the shortages of surgical masks at hospitals by hand-making them.

Desiree Burgess, owner of custom handmade-accessory line Harts & Pearls, is one of them. Her company regularly partners with nonprofits and was an early participant in responding to the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages.

“When I heard about the shortage of PPE on the news and healthcare workers reusing disposable masks for days and weeks, I knew we needed to help,” Burgess said. “We had everything needed to start sewing them. It just made sense.”

Burgess quickly rallied a team, setting all her current employees on the goal of sewing and donating 1,000 masks for healthcare workers. “We surpassed that in a few days,” Burgess said, “so now we are working toward 2,000 masks.”

And her team has expanded. Not only are Harts & Pearls staffers working with Burgess to achieve the expanded goal, but some 20 additional community volunteers have accepted the challenge, as well.

The result has been an outpouring of gratitude from nurses and frontline workers and a huge morale boost for the Harts & Pearls team.

“We had begun cutting back hours once the virus hit and sales slowed down, but as soon as we started making masks, the support from our community and really across the U.S. has been so huge, now everyone is working more hours than they did prior,” she said. “This is a time that we all need hope and, for me and Harts & Pearls, there is no greater hope than knowing you have the chance to help someone else in a time of need. We are beyond grateful.”

Two other locals, Ken Smith and Sylvie Pelasasa-Ward, also have been helping alleviate the shortages by volunteering their time to help produce masks.

Michael McIntosh and James Lasko cut mask material with a laser cutter. Photo courtesy Ken Smith.

Smith, a software engineer at Microsoft, has donated countless hours laser cutting fabric for masks to then be passed on to Step By Step, a local nonprofit based out of Puyallup. At Step By Step, more than 120 volunteers have been sewing masks to be sent off and delivered to local hospitals in need. Together, the partnership has resulted in the production of thousands of masks.

The volunteers of NW Mask Brigade, founded by Pelasasa-Ward, also have been working to alleviate shortages. Founded on March 29, the organization immediately began receiving request for masks — some requests coming from as far away as North Carolina. Still, the  majority of requests have come from the South Sound.

Pelasasa-Ward started NW Mask Brigade in order to reach out to others for help with the production and pick-up/delivery process of the masks. Her initial post was a video with simple step-by-step instructions on how to properly sew the masks. Her page has grown immensely, and she uses the platform to announce updates on local donation sites as well supply shortages and materials required for herself and other volunteers.

She puts together mask kits for her volunteers, each one containing material for 25 masks. In her home, she has a sign-in station where she can keep track of everything coming in and out. Since starting the brigade, she has had more than 100 people reach out to help volunteer, and she and her volunteers have sent out more than 1,000 masks to donation sites, including Manor Care Gig Harbor, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, Harrison Medical Center, ResCare, and more — from all around the South Sound and beyond.

To help NW Mask Brigade visit here. Or, if you’re a healthcare worker in need of masks for your facility, the link to submit your request can be found here.

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