By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Life savers: Locals cut and sew to help front-line workers

Submitted photo##Donetta Phelps works at her sewing machine, making masks for health workers and others who need them.
Submitted photo##Donetta Phelps works at her sewing machine, making masks for health workers and others who need them.
Submitted photo##Individuals and groups are sewing masks in all colors in an effort to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
Submitted photo##Individuals and groups are sewing masks in all colors in an effort to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

The coronavirus has created a huge need for protective equipment, and many local people are responding by sewing facial masks for health care workers and others needing protection at work, including grocery store clerks.

Some are working individually; others as part of organized efforts, such as the mask-making project hosted by McMinnville First Baptist Church’s Sew and So’s quilting group or the Newberg Public Library staff. The Growlers Tap Station in McMinnville also is making masks for community members.

Many have made friends or strengthened friendships as part of a neighborhood or club effort, such as one a McMinnville chapter of PEO, a service group, is doing.

“We have a wonderful community stepping up to help our health care providers in this critical time,” said Susan Chambers, who is coordinating the Sew & So’s project.

She and other mask makers said they are driven by a serious purpose: helping people on the front lines fighting the virus. But they also say they are trying to keep the project upbeat. They are using fabric in greens, purples, pinks, yellows and other bright colors, or printed with images of frolicking puppies, blooming flowers or geometric shapes.

“This needs to be a little fun” in such a worrisome time, said Ingrid Amerson of PEO Chapter FH. “And it’s nice to know we can do something to help the health care providers who are putting their lives on the line.”

Amerson learned about the need for masks from an acquaintance who works at Willamette Valley Medical Center. The woman told her about directions online at, showing how to make cloth masks that will fit over the N91 respirator masks hospitals usually use. (Search the site for “mask”)

She offered to sew some.

“I thought, maybe my PEO sisters would like to help,” Amerson said, so she contacted the chapter president, who spread the word.

About 10 sisters joined the project, and by Monday had delivered nearly 75 masks to local health care workers.

The group’s members work individually, then drop off their finished masks to Amerson. They maintain social distancing rules when they do so. “It’s definitely nice to see people” from a distance during the dropoffs, she said.

Amerson said she’s been using cotton from her “stash,” the pile of fabric that builds up in every sewing room. So far, she’s turned out teal masks, black-and-white masks and “all the colors of the rainbow,” she said.

“It’s really nice to use my stash for this,” she said.

Donetta Phelps has been making masks for a variety of workers, including a home health nurse and clerks at grocery stores like Roth’s and Grocery Outlet.

She is happy to do it, she said, especially since she enjoys sewing and is stuck at home “due to my age vulnerability.”

Her son-in-law, Jason Wydro, told her about the need for masks in town. She agreed to make them, and asked him to gather the project materials.

“He’s a tech guy and doesn’t know anything about sewing, so I spent hours on the phone with him while he ran around town looking for the correct fabrics,” she said, affectionately.

He and her daughter, Tkeisha, also have been distributing the masks.

“We are now preparing more for those most in need, but are limited on how many we can produce as I am only one person sewing,” she said. 

Phelps is encouraging other people to contribute, as well. She suggested visiting Joann Fabrics for a pattern or watching YouTube videos to learn to sew them.

“We are just trying to help as many people as we can,” Phelps said.

The Sew & So’s group at First Baptist Church has a tradition of helping others by making quilts for Juliette’s House child abuse assessment center, the Court-Appointed Child Advocates program, the veterans’ hospital and hospices.

For the time being, though, members are focusing on masks, instead, said Susan Chambers, the Sew & So’s coordinator. She took over after the death of the group’s founder, Lucita Duke.

The group uses donated fabric, and Duke had organized all the smaller pieces, one yard or less, by color and type. So it’s been simple to pull out closely woven cottons suitable for masks — “a lot of reds and purples, a lot of batiks, children’s fabrics with ABCs,” Chambers said.

Elastic, to go over the ears and hold the masks in place, was harder to find, she said. It’s sold out everywhere. So Chambers “did an all-call for elastic and received lots” from church members and other supporters.

By Monday, five people from the church were making masks for the hospital, care centers such as Rock of Ages, the McMinnville Eye Clinic and other health care organizations.

Chambers herself has a goal of 20 a day. She’s also cutting fabric and elastic to make mask kits to deliver to others who sew.

The Sew & So’s also are using the pattern, but Chambers has figured out some “tricks” to improve the masks.

“I had a request from a friend who’s a registered dietician, and she wanted a metal piece to go around the nose so her glasses wouldn’t fog up,” she said.

Chambers tried different options, and decided to sew a pipe cleaner into the top of the mask to satisfy that purpose.

“It’s been a good challenge,” she said, “to be creative and reuse resources, and to make something functional.”

In a northwest McMinnville neighborhood, residents have gathered — virtually — to make masks for people who deal directly with the coronavirus emergency.

Kathleen Dennis began the project after talking with her children and their spouses, who work in health care. Her daughter and her son are both physician’s assistants in Utah and Washington, respectively. Her daughter-in-law is a surgeon and her son-in-law makes prosthetics, although his work is now on hold. Another son-in-law is a nurse. And her grandson is finishing his second year of medical school.

She communicates with them regularly — even more often than before the virus began to spread, she said.

They’re all concerned about shortages of personal protective equipment. And her son, who works at an urgent care center, has experienced it first hand. He didn’t have the right equipment when he cared for a patient later diagnosed with COVID-19, and now he and his wife must check their temperatures twice a day as they self-isolate.

“There’s so much need out there, it’s just frightening,” Dennis said.

She sent a notice out with the homeowners’ newsletter she writes, asking neighbors if they would make masks for medics, first responders and caregivers. The response was immediate.

“Everybody started doing a piece — cutting, sewing, doing finishing work,” said Dennis, who is sewing as well as overseeing the project.

Linda Enticknap is among the volunteers. She cuts cotton rectangles and bags them for those who are sewing.

She said Dennis purchased some of the material and Joann Fabrics donated more. When they ran out of elastic, they improvised with a stretchy knit, she said.

They are using pretty fabrics on purpose. “We’ve got a beautiful green material, and some with robots or butterflies,” Dennis said. “I’m trying to buy colorful fabric so it looks more cheerful.”

Their spontaneous production line runs from home to home. “It’s an ongoing puzzle to make it work,” she said. “I drop off fabric and we keep a six-foot distance as we pass things from place to place.”

She and her neighbors had turned out about 86 masks by Monday, and Dennis said she’s gathering materials to make more. Her son, a pilot, plans to fly to McMinnville to pick up some masks and take some to his sister in Utah. Others will go to the Yamhill County public health department for distribution.

For Dennis, the mask-making project is a beacon in a time of darkness.

“I feel overwhelmed and grateful for all my neighbors pitching in and helping,” she said. “There’s so much need out there; health care workers are critical to us. We have to do what we can.”





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