Hundreds respond to Marshfield Clinic's request to the community for sewn face masks

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NORTH CENTRAL WIS. (WSAW) -- It all started with a Facebook post from the Marshfield Clinic Health System Foundation on Saturday, asking the community to volunteer to sew masks for Marshfield Clinic patients.

Handsewn face masks created by Marshfield community volunteers and donated to Marshfield Clinic, March 23, 2020 (WSAW Photo)

"People have reached out from all over the place asking how they can help," said Teri Wilczek, Chief Philanthropy Officer with the Foundation. "It’s been absolutely overwhelming."

The post attracted hundreds of comments and shares, resulting in individuals, families, organizations and churches to step up offering their help. One of those groups began when two registered nurses with the Marshfield School District, one of them Judy Akin, began coordinating a massive community response.

"We started by reaching out to our entire [Marshfield School District] staff, and then from there it blossomed," Akin told NewsChannel 7. "I think I probably have close to about 200 people sewing right now."

Her porch has been converted into a drop-off zone, one of several hubs designated by Marshfield Clinic for volunteers to drop off masks. By Monday at noon, she'd collected about 100 masks--but most people she'd organized had only just started sewing. The drop-off is simple: A sign with instructions and a can for the masks, to limit social interaction and encourage distance.

One volunteer, a 6th grade teacher with the MSD, dropped some off around noon and said she was planning to spend the rest of the day sewing.

"I'm hoping to get at least 24 done, takes about 15 minutes per mask," Mary Bixby said.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is suffering a nationwide shortage as COVID-19 continues its spread. Hospitals in central Wisconsin are forced to turn to alternative sources for the masks, gowns, gloves and other gear needed. For Marshfield Clinic, the handsewn masks are for patients and visitors, to help conserve the medical-grade N95 respiratory masks needed for health care workers.

The need is massive. "We’re truly hoping we can get hundreds of thousands of masks," Wilczek told NewsChannel 7. "CDC has indicated that during times of crisis, patients can use masks like this, and that these are sufficient to create kind of a barrier needed if they do have to come into our medical complexes. So our focus now is to have these available to all of our patients when they come in at all of our Marshfield Clinic sites across the system"

Marshfield Clinic has set up a very specific system for making the masks, including instructions for the style they are accepting (See FB post below this article for more details.) Drop-off sites are designed to limit traffic to the hospital; organizers will collect the masks and take them to Marshfield Clinic, where the masks will be sterilized before use.

It's a movement echoed across a country coming up short in vital protective gear. Joann Fabrics last Friday launched a program donating face mask kits and instructions. (If you are donating to Marshfield Clinic, please use the instructions included in their Facebook post to ensure meeting their desired standard.)

"At school, we talk about acts of kindness," Bixby observed. "And this definitely is an act of kindness."

"I truly hope that everyone that gets one of these masks knows all the care, love, and support that’s coming along with it," Akin said.

For instructions on creation and for designated drop-off sites, see the Facebook post below.