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Offering help: Local sewers making masks for the Keweenaw

Elaine Thompson/AP Photo Gov. Jay Inslee wears a makeshift mask as he speaks with media members while visiting inside Nourish Pierce County warehouse, where Washington National Guard members were packing food in response to the coronavirus outbreak Friday in Lakewood, Wash.

HOUGHTON — With masks becoming an increasing necessity, a local group is stepping up to make supplies.

After a friend asked Mary Sue Weist Hyslop how they could fill the need for masks, she launched Face Masks of the Keweenaw, adopting the best practices from Masks by Marquette, which has filled the same need there. The group has quickly assembled more than 500 members. 

The homemade masks are not replacements for N95 or surgical masks, Hyslop said. But they are sized to fit over those masks, potentially extending their useful life. There is also a pocket that will hold a replaceable filter. 

Other places have also stepped up with supplies. Laser North in Baraga donated metal nosepieces, while much of the elastic has been donated by Calumet Electronics. 

“People want to be generous,” Hyslop said. “They want to give as much as they can.”

Amy Evans, a friend of Hyslop’s, has been recruiting local sewers, posting on several groups and reaching out to local churches. 

“There’s people in the community who definitely have the skills we need,” she said. “People have been asking ‘How can I help?’ A lot of people in the area are seamstresses and sewers.”

The Facebook page contains lists of patterns and instructions on how to make the masks. 

Debra Sisco, who recently moved to the area, started out by making masks for her employer, Calumet Electronics. When her sister told her of the group, the former seamstress jumped in. 

“It’s been great because I’ve been able to meet more people — not physically meet them, but connect with online, and have more impact than the small number of people that I know here,” she said. 

So far, the group’s made more than 2,000 of its initial goal of 10,000 masks. Thousands of requests have already come in from local hospitals, nursing homes, first responders and businesses. 

“It’s all dependent on material,” Hyslop said. “We’ll still put the masks out without the filter system, because that will help.”

People who receive the masks should wash them before use as a precautionary measure, Hyslop said.

Those who wish to join or donate can go to facebook.com/groups/828502044317777 or gofundme.com/f/masks-for-the-copper-country. An account has also been set up at the Michigan Tech Employees Federal Credit Union. 

Pick-up and drop-off sites are at Campioni’s True Value in Calumet, Swift’s Hardware in Houghton and Cricket Wireless in Houghton. 

Anything dropped off must be in a clear Ziploc bag, Hyslop said. 

Evans is proud of what the group has accomplished. 

“We all saw how people came together after the Father’s Day flood,” she said. “There’s very generous, giving, loving people around here.”

Hopefully, the group can have a real-life meetup when the pandemic fades, Sisco said. For now, they’re still busy helping out. 

“It’s working together and helping everyone across the board, whether it’s the people at the grocery store, or the hospital… we’re all interlinked, and everything you do for the community helps everybody across the board, not just that one person,” she said.

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