Their endeavor started in late March as the coronavirus was spreading.
Three days before Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued her stay-at-home order, four women in Hood River initiated a homemade mask-making brigade. Visual artist Shelley Toon Lindberg, business owner Sherie Lacrosse Zack and apparel designer Holly Higdon-Wood were sipping coffee during a phone call March 20 when inspiration struck: How great would it be to organize a community effort to make masks?
“We wanted to help as much as we could in a community we love,” says Holly, who owns and operates Colony Collective—a custom hat and apparel company in Hood River. “Given our skill sets, it was a no-brainer. We realized right away if we designed an easy-to-follow system, we could make a working model, which other communities could duplicate.”
Christina Bailey McGhee, who closed her Blue Canoe Cafe in Parkdale, joined forces with the collective almost immediately.
Together, their vision became the Gorge Makers Collective—a group of more than 100 volunteers and community members working together to make masks for those who need them most while also creating an emergency stockpile for medical professionals if necessary.
After consulting with local health care providers, Holly designed the collective’s first pattern for a mask: a cup-shaped covering for the mouth and nose made with two layers of tightly woven cotton, elastic bands and aluminum nose stays.
On March 22, the women launched the Gorge Makers Collective Facebook group, where they share mask patterns, videos on proper mask use and care, and updates about their efforts.
As word spread in the community, volunteers responded with an explosion of support. A local couple donated $5,000. Others donated fabric, cut mask patterns, folded tooling aluminum for nose stays, assembled mask kits or sewed masks. Sherie managed multiple self-serve plastic bins outside her home to keep supplies flowing. She calls it her lemonade stand.
Holly’s original mask design evolved based on resources available and community needs. When elastic for the ear wraps became difficult to source, Melika Swimwear and Venture Swim in Hood River provided lycra straps as a replacement.
Donated pre-cut coffee-bag sealers replaced aluminum nose stays.
Klickitat Valley Health Hospital donated medical-grade sterile wrap. The collective reached out to local businesses Dakine, The Renewal Workshop and Colony Collective, who repurposed the material to make surgical-style masks. More than 3,500 of these masks have been distributed to the Hood River County Health Department.
After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people wear masks in public, the collective developed a mask pattern for children.
The collective now has 100 local sewers, and the Facebook group has grown to more than 770 people.
“All the volunteers have been sharing ideas to make the sewing process more efficient,” says Shelley, who also serves as executive director of Arts in the Education of the Gorge. “It feels really good to be building a cohesive team while trying to protect one another in our community.”
HM[B]50—an Oregon nonprofit dedicated to assisting those producing locally sourced personal protective equipment—provided funding for the collective and for Sailworks, a windsurf sail design and manufacturing company based in Hood River. Sailworks committed its employees and made 400 to 500 protective face shields per day.
According to Sailworks owner Bruce Peterson, 6,800 face shields were produced in two weeks and delivered to the Hood River County Health Department.
“In a small town, the health care providers are our spouses, our neighbors and our children,” Shelley says. “In our rural community, we are accustomed to working together and depending on one another. This crisis revealed how powerful our networks of friends, work colleagues and neighbors really are.”
Since production started, the collective has produced more than 3,200 masks for area clinics’ staff and patients, agencies serving older adults, older veterans, food delivery people, community health workers, social service staff, school administrators, firefighters, and food bank workers and their customers.
The collective is exploring how to meet the needs of farmworkers and retail establishments if they reopen.
Each mask comes with proper care instructions.
“It’s really a good example of how I believe our community works together to protect one another,” says Brent Emmons, principal at Hood River Middle School. “We have a very diverse community that looks out for one another.”
Looking at what the Gorge Makers Collective has accomplished, Holly recalls a quote by Albert Camus that hangs in her kitchen: “Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”
“Right now, it couldn’t be more true,” she says.
ABOUT THE SERIES: Pioneer Utility Resources, publisher of Ruralite magazine, spotlights Heroes Among Us, sharing the unique stories of volunteers and difference-makers in communities across the Northwest and West. The series receives support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust—a private, nonprofit foundation serving nonprofits across the Pacific Northwest.