Sewing the seeds of community

A collection of handsewn face masks made from donated materials by Skye Hefner, Athena Intros and a host of other local volunteers. PHOTO C/O SKYE HEFNER

There’s a longstanding tradition of sacrifice and community involvement in Cottage Grove, something even a global pandemic can’t shake.

Just as Rosie the Riveters - a group that holds a place of special prominence in the Cottage Grove area - took up manufacturing slack in the war effort over seven decades ago, local residents Skye Hefner and Athena Intros — friends who work together at the Western Oregon Expo as office manager and secretary, respectively — have headed up a local group to sew and provide face masks for Grovers in need as the country faces shortages of all manner of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“This whole [virus] thing started and I had joined that group that had started up in Eugene,” Hefner said. “I started with that and then Athena and I were talking and decided that, because what happens - and it happens very frequently - is that anything that’s based up in Eugene or Springfield ends up basically forgetting that Cottage Grove exists, so we decided that, instead of providing work up there, that we wanted to cover Cottage Grove because that’s what we do.”

Towards the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown, Hefner and Intros posted to the Pay It Forward Cottage Grove Facebook page that they would be providing hand-sewn face masks free of charge and began making their list. Healthcare workers, caregivers and essential workers were given priority and moved to the top. The list quickly grew to over 400 and then kept growing.

“The list, as of [April 25], we hit 1,000 masks that we’ve put together and given out,” Hefner said. “Pretty much all of the material we’ve used has been donated from people in the community who have masks, but wanted to help out. It’s been really cool.”

When asked about the idea of being a “modern-day Rosie the Riveter”, Hefner was quick to posit her and the rest of the group’s work as something that was simply necessary.

“I didn’t start doing this to try and get recognition,” Hefner said. “It was just my way of being able to help out with everything that’s going on because I can sew, I have the ability and I’ve been doing it for basically 40 years. I’ve been sewing since before I could walk.”

Also, Hefner, like so many millions of Americans, has a personal connection to those myriad workers who stand on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 in hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores and more as her daughter is studying to become a nurse and currently working as a caregiver in the Portland area.

Despite the humble approach, all members involved in the volunteer effort have been hard at work and plan on continuing the manufacture of face masks once their initial list is completed.

“I’ve been up until two, three, four o’clock in the morning, but this hasn’t just been me and Athena only, there’s a whole bunch of people that have been helping out,” Hefner said. “I figure once this [list] is completed then we’ll make another post for the next batch of people that are looking … but I wanted to make sure I got through this list before overwhelming ourselves with another list of 400 masks that might turn into 1,000.”

Regardless of how big or small the total number is, there has been an all-hands-on-deck approach to make up for the country’s shortages of PPE, a nationwide movement of which Hefner, Intros and many other local residents are decidedly a part.

It may be months or even years before researchers can figure out the total number of PPE items provided by volunteer groups like the one in Cottage Grove, but if over 1,000 have already been produced locally, it’s safe to assume the total number nationally has many more zeroes. When there is a chance in the future to look back on this time with some perspective, these volunteers may very well be regarded as the Rosie the Riveters of the coronavirus shutdown.

While homemade face masks do not provide the same level of protection as N95 masks, there is data that shows wearing one in crowded places like the grocery store has benefits versus no face covering at all, though frequent hand-washing and social distancing are still of paramount importance.

The masks are particularly effective at preventing the wearer from infecting other people, as opposed to becoming initially infected themselves. According to the American Lung Association (ALA) one in four people suffering from COVID-19 show mild to no symptoms, thus, a face mask that partially traps the sneeze of an infected wearer does have benefit in preventing the spread of the virus. The ALA stresses this saying, “These types of masks are not intended to protect the wearer, but to protect against the unintended transmission … of coronavirus.”

Center for Disease Control guidelines state that homemade face masks should be washed frequently, depending on amount of use, in the sink or washing machine with hot water and tumble dried on high heat to ensure any potential germs are thoroughly cleaned out.


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