By Gregory Manni
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — The nation has run out of medical masks, but an unlikely group of crafters and makers is striving to curb the shortage for Michigan’s organizations in need.
One of WMEAC’s own staff members, Sara Vruggink, started sewing fabric face masks last week for Crafters Combating COVID, a new volunteer collective aimed at meeting the mask demand.
“Not everyone has easy access to the masks,” Vruggink says, noting the recent state requirement for face coverings in enclosed public spaces. “This project seemed like an obvious way I could do something tangible to help meet the need, since I enjoy sewing, and already have a machine and a decent stash of thread.”
Vruggink runs the administrative side of things for WMEAC, and during the week, wears many different hats. Some of her work can’t be completed with the WMEAC office closed, and since WMEAC is supporting staff volunteer work through the crisis, she has been using a portion of her work hours to support coronavirus relief.
She is joining what must be hundreds of other sewists in Michigan who have contributed their time and money by working with Crafters Combating COVID (CCC). The organization started as a private group on Facebook in late March, and has since amassed over 1,400 members. After the group became too active for organizers to control, they launched a website where all of their information and resources, like mask patterns and FAQs, could be accessed in one place.
Part of CCC’s mission is ensuring that its newfound wealth of fabric masks remains a free, volunteer-based resource for high-risk organizations in need. In less than two months, sewists across the state have produced over 20,000 masks, and those masks are going to healthcare facilities, organizations like Michigan Community Action, and even municipalities, like the City of Detroit.
“It’s been in the works for a long time,” Vruggink says, of her own volunteer effort. “Everything was really bogged down with the initial demand for the masks, so I didn’t actually start sewing until this past week.”
Vruggink had been following the donation project of two local businesses, Gemini Handmade and Public Thread, when she heard about CCC. The businesses had teamed up with others to build mask-making kits, but the program soon became overwhelming as they tried to keep their own operations afloat. One of the business owners directed Vruggink to CCC’s Facebook group, and some of the sewing materials they had gathered, like fabric and elastic, were donated to the cause.
“When the volunteers finish a batch of masks, they can drop them off to one of the drop-off points,” Vruggink explains. These drop-off hubs are spread throughout the state, and are run by organizers who gather the masks and send them out to people in need. CCC has also organized pick-up locations for donated material so that sewists can volunteer without having to spend money or go to the store.
“I think that a lot of people are doing this, because the fabric store is sold out of so many patterns right now,” Vruggink says. “Hopefully people don’t mind—the masks that I’m making are kind of an ugly yellow color on one side,” she jokes. “They can flip it around if the yellow is too much.”
Despite the fact that many people are sewing masks, it has been a solitary effort. She hasn’t had much contact with anyone working for CCC. She isn’t swapping techniques with anyone else while she sews. Instead, she turns on some music or a podcast. With stay-at-home orders stretching past seven weeks now, hundreds of volunteers must be experiencing something similar as they sit at their sewing machines.
“This week, I’ve made about ten,” says Vruggink. Ten fabric masks may sound small, but it means ten more people with a reduced risk of catching COVID-19—a safety measure they may not have had access to before.
“The people who started this, it’s been a totally grassroots effort,” Vruggink says. She points to the fact that she just joined the sewing brigade recently. “People have been at this for weeks now, and it’s just really neat to see.”
If you are skilled with a needle and thread, and want to join the cause, visit crafterscombatingcovid.com.
Photo Credit: Sara Vruggink (all photos in article)