Equipped with sewing machines, goodwill and some unexpected time on their hands, a small group of volunteers have come together to fill a need in the community.

Natalie McNish, whose name may be familiar to some as the lone candidate for mayor in Marshfield, is part of a group that is sewing homemade masks for the city's nursing homes, Webco Manor and Marshfield Care Center.

"We reached out, and both of the administrators said, yeah, absolutely, we can’t get anything — it would really be helpful to have something for our residents and our staff," McNish said in an interview Saturday.

But she added, "When we got the numbers, we realized we’d need some help."

The volunteers are providing 300 masks to the nursing homes, and about 200 more are going to a group home, to public administrator clients who are not in a facility, to a home health nurse and to Marshfield school staff members who are passing out meals for children.

All of these neighbors are at risk of exposure to the coronavirus, but masks are in short supply. Something needed to be done, the group felt.

"I know CDC standards for masks, and these don't compare," McNish said. But she said that she read some articles about similar masks being deployed after the H1N1 flu outbreak, and they were believed to be partially effective.

The group settled on a design and got to work.

"We wanted a mask that could be washed and reused, so our nose bridge is actually thermostat wire," McNish said. "I picked it because it’s a copper wire so it won’t rust, and it’s got that plastic coating over it."

The mask has three little pleats, with elastic on the sides that is cut long so that the wearer can adjust their fit.

"Elastic is really hard to find," McNish said.

The masks do not have a filter, nor a pocket for an extra cotton, such as a panty liner, as some do-it-yourself models offer. "I saw that pattern as well, and I loved the idea, but that pattern took a lot longer to make, and I didn't find anything that said it was more effective," McNish said. Plus, a mask that is too thick or too warm may be hard to wear, she said.

The masks being made by the team of volunteers is bleached muslin in the inside with a cotton exterior that features a bright, cheerful design — "Something that’s not too gloom-and-doom," McNish said.

McNish said that the volunteers are enjoying the project. "One thing we definitely have right now is nervous energy and some free time,” she said. "This is a good outlet for it."

She pointed out that one volunteer, Stephanie Hughes, works for the Marshfield Police Department, where the lobby is closed to the public. That gives her time to do a little mask-making.

A few blocks away, Donna Burks has the whole Clerk of Courts office on the project. And just out of town, a group from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are busy as bees with their needlework.

While the mask project is a great one for volunteers who can sew, there are other ways of helping that anyone can do.

"We've got a lot of people with talents, and it’s definitely time to use those," she said.

Her advice? "Practice compassion. There’s a lot of people out there who are really stressed," McNish said. "Tempers are going to be short. We need to try to give a little more consideration for those people at those times — which is a while lot easier to say than to do."

And some people are facing coronavirus in isolation. "We're a social people, for the most part," McNish said. "Being alone isn’t good for anybody. Hopefully it doesn't drag on too long."

In a followup interview Tuesday, McNish had just delivered the first 100 masks, dividing them between the nursing homes, and she had just picked up another 70 to take home to sanitize before distributing them. "They're doing awesome stuff," she said of the ad hoc volunteer crew.

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