Volunteers have local students covered

South Lane School District (SLSD) recently finalized a plan that would see students begin the 2020-21 school year with distance learning. When students can safely return to school grounds, however, they shouldn’t be wanting for masks.

A group of local volunteers that have been sewing personal protective equipment for Grovers in need since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak has begun an initiative to keep all SLSD member schools stocked with additional supplies of cloth masks.

Cottage Grove Oregon Mask Makers is a Facebook group spearheaded by Cottage Grove resident and retired Bethel School District teacher Lynda Hardwick. With over 180 members — and approximately 50 individual mask-sewers — the group has already made over 1,000 masks since beginning their work over three months ago. 

“When we started the group, I didn’t want it to be a group that sells masks,” Hardwick said. “I didn’t want that to be an avenue because I didn’t want competition. It was just that we need to access our frontline workers. We need to support them. We need to make them masks. That’s how it all started.”

Under the banner of community and civic responsibility, members got to work and delivered their first batch to Middlefield Oaks Assisted Living and Memory Care and the movement has evolved from there.

“[Community] was the impetus,” Hardwick added. “We needed to get together and get organized and it was about the first part of April that I made the private Facebook group and I’m not that active in Facebook. I have to ask my kids, ‘Now, how do I do this? How do I make a Facebook group?’”

The movement has continued to grow and Hardwick now has the opportunity to continue her dedication to area students in her retirement as she and her fellow mask makers begin making custom, school-color masks for all SLSD locations. 

Stephanie Randall, a teacher at Bohemia Elementary and member of the SLSD Reopening Committee, initially proposed the idea and the group jumped at the chance to continue their community involvement.

“You figure out ways to help out and I think that’s kind of innate with teachers,” Hardwick said. “It was one of those things where you just felt like, ‘I’m so happy to be a part of this community.’”

While the Oregon Department of Education will certainly play a role in supplying schools with protective equipment, Hardwick envisions her group’s extra masks functioning similarly to the way schools often keep extra clothes on-hand in case of accidents or messes during the school day.

“I’m gonna bet that 99 percent of the parents, they’re gonna have their kids wearing masks, but there’s gonna be something that happens,” Hardwick said with her extensive teaching background in mind. “The mask breaks or they forgot their mask, just like a situation with getting all muddy in the playground. You’re gonna go down to the health room and they can give you a mask.”

Thus far, the vast majority of masks have been made using supplies the sewing volunteers already had available or purchased themselves, but interested community members that wish to help out — whether via sewing, fabric donations or logistical help — are more than welcome to join the initiative as members look to streamline their efforts for the coming school year.

“If you wanted to join, I would just check that you’re from Cottage Grove and then I’ll approve you,” Hardwick said. 

Interested parties can search for “Cottage Grove Oregon Mask Makers” on Facebook in order to request permission to join the group.

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