Sewing machines fire up to make masks

Summer Donily’s sewing machine was already warmed up to respond to the need for face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I do a lot of volunteer sewing. I started with Randall’s Children’s Hospital, I made pillow cases and quilts for them, I sew for the American Cancer Society and Be Bold Street Ministries,” Donily said. 

Donily was one of dozens, if not hundreds, who sharpened their needles to make masks for first responders, family members, friends and complete strangers. Salem Health was one agency that issued a call for help and planned to distribute enough materials for 10,000 masks over a two-day period. The organizers handed them all out within hours on the first day. 

Donily started making masks for the outreach personnel at Be Bold using material she had at home.

Sharon Belleque, another Keizer stitcher, dove into the effort about two weeks ago and has made 200 masks since she started. She watched a YouTube video that instructed viewers on the process. 

“I heard about the need and I do a lot of sewing, so I just decided to give it a try,” Belleque said. Belleque started making masks for her family members out of a concern for her elderly mother, but then offered to make them for others through Keizer-centric Facebook communities. 

Neither woman had to reach far for fabric, both had plenty of reserves at home. Donily told staff members at JoAnn’s in Salem what she was working on and received some extra yards of high-quality cotton. However, both found themselves running short on elastic for the bands to attach them to faces, and each found unique solutions. 

A few of the many masks made by Keizerite Sharon Belleque.

Belleque tried to substitute oversized hair ties, but they didn’t stand up to repeated wearing. 

“Right now, I’m using large, wide rubber bands,” Belleque said. “They aren’t the prettiest thing, but they hold up. I don’t want anyone to go away with defective masks.” 

Donily sent her daughter and husband on a trip to the dollar store and bought out the entire stock of elastic headbands. 

“I cut them in half and I can get a couple of masks out of each one,” Donily said. 

Donily enlists her son and daughter, who she homeschools, to help in the production and binges streaming shows while she works, which is one reason she doesn’t have a tally of how many she’s produced.

“My biggest problem is I’m running out of shows to watch,” Donily said. 

Donily is focused on getting masks to organizations with a part in responding to the pandemic, but Belleque is making masks for anyone who contacts her. She’s even arranged for no-contact pick-up at her home. 

“I put them in paper bags with the person’s name on it and then they go out into a box on my porch for people to pick up. They’ve left me all sorts of gifts and donations in return,” Belleque said. “Every one of them has made me cry. There’s so many people out there and we’re all scared.”

Donily said taking part in the response is a way to model the change she hopes results from the weirdness of the times we are living in. 

“That would be the best outcome for this whole thing, to regain some sort of sense of communal responsibility,” Donily said.