Mobilizing mask makers in NW Missouri

  • Published: Thursday, April 9, 2020

CAMERON, Mo. – Volunteers across northwestern Missouri have mobilized into a virtual sewing factory, turning out homemade masks to help protect local health care providers and emergency responders against COVID-19. Their goal is 15,000 masks, and volunteers have already completed — or are actively working on — about 8,000 masks right now.

“From one person’s idea of helping out his sister-in-law, to a company’s generous donation, to using extension’s outreach capacity in the community to help coordinate this effort, it’s pretty phenomenal,” said Debra Davis, MU Extension’s Clinton County engagement specialist in youth program development.

This effort started when Chad Howerton’s sister-in-law, a labor and delivery nurse in mid-Missouri, said that she and her colleagues had been issued one mask each with instructions to try to make it last a month. If they were struggling to find basic equipment to protect themselves from COVID-19, surely workers closer to home must need them too, said Howerton, who chairs the Clinton County extension council. On March 23, the same day he heard from his sister-in-law, he sent two emails: to Davis and to the Missouri Star Quilt Co.

He had a project in mind and needed their help to pull it off: “Missouri Star is always a great community partner. They were the first people I thought of to ask for help,” Howerton said.

Within 24 hours, he was driving the 40 miles to Hamilton, where Missouri Star operations manager Scott O’Dell and his team had already boxed up 1,700 yards of fabric remnants. The donated bolts nearly filled the bed of Howerton’s pickup.

Missouri Star customer service manager Wendi Mills said Howerton’s mask-making idea reminded her of how citizens stepped up to roll bandages for troops during World War I. “It’s about giving back and wanting to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Mills said. “Our company’s mission is to inspire and create. And often time, it’s the community’s generosity that inspires us. And we are always here to help.”

With the donation secured, Davis and Barb Denny, who serves as office support staff for MU Extension in Clinton and DeKalb counties, put out the call through social media, news releases, radio and their network of personal connections in Caldwell, Clinton and DeKalb counties.

“Do you know how to sew?” Denny wrote in one Facebook post. “Have I got a mission for you!...The Missouri Star Quilt Co has graciously donated a bunch (and I mean a bunch!) of fabric to the Clinton County Extension to be used to make mask[s] for our healthcare super hero[e]s! All we need is your talents! If you can make 50, 100 or heck, maybe 500 we can get you the fabric!... To quote Uncle Sam ‘We want you’ to help in this fight against the coronavirus!”

A virtual factory mobilized overnight. Davis, Denny and a cadre of volunteers drop off fabric at the homes of 4-H families, community volunteers and members of quilting and sewing groups in the three-county area. Those who can’t sew cut fabric and prepare the strings. Completed masks are left on doorsteps for pickup.

With the help of a Clinton County 4-H family—Sandra Bryson and daughter Genna Sarcione—MU Extension has already coordinated the delivery of enough fabric for at least 5,000 masks to go to hospitals, health care facilities and veterinarian clinics in Liberty, Cameron and St. Joseph.

“We estimate we have enough fabric to complete more than 15,000 fabric masks, and I believe we this will be possible by the huge community response and the opportunity for extension to be the connectors in this great effort,” Davis said.

Members of Barb Owen’s Project Linus sewing group, for instance, have made masks for the Cameron hospital, a clinic in Tiffany Springs, a local rehab center, the post office, a UPS driver and an investment firm that is handing masks out to elderly clients. A batch of 60 was sent to workers and clients at a homeless ministry in St. Joseph.

Davis noted that the similar efforts are underway elsewhere: Cooper County 4-H, for example, is urging volunteers to contact or the MU Extension Center in Cooper County to make masks for a local care facility.

“All the way from the big city to little bitty towns, we’re trying to make an impact in northwest Missouri,” Denny said. “Every connection, every contact, every mask, it all makes an impact.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides these guidelines for making and caring for masks. It is important to note that masks are never a substitute for important social distancing and other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Photos available for this release:
“It’s like an adult version of Ding Dong Ditch!” said one volunteer, describing the safe social distancing practices observed while dropping off fabric and picking up finished masks.
Missouri Star Quilt Co. donated 1,700 yards of remnant fabric for the mask-making project in northwestern Missouri.
Olivia Buller, 9, member of Cameron Keystones Willing Works 4-H Club, says she got involved because “I enjoy doing something to help others that are helping keep us safe.”

Writer: Katherine Foran

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Debra Davis

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