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When Jan Scanlin was 7-years-old, all she wanted for Christmas was a sewing machine. She never imagined that decades later her favorite present would be used to sew face masks during a global pandemic.
“When you hear about the shortfalls and the risks that [the virus] was putting on all of our first responders and medical personnel, I thought if there’s just a teeny tiny way we can help them, why not,” said the Redding grandmother and artist, who has sewn approximately 150 masks.
Those masks were especially welcome in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak where one thing was becoming clear: the supply of face masks was quickly diminishing.
Panic began to set in throughout the United States as questions about the face mask shortage. As the virus rapidly swept throughout the country, people found creative ways to produce head coverings and masks.
With these new creations, neighbors began helping neighbors, sending the supplies to whomever needed them.
Here in the north state, one Redding organization took to its sewing machines to help those who needed it most: the medical community and its front-line workers.
The Redding Fashion Alliance (RFA), located in downtown Redding, provided a local solution to the country’s mask shortage during the global pandemic. Members jumped into action.
According to the RFA website, the non-profit organization’s mission is to give, “retail space for local makers and designers, makerspace for sewing and fashion design, a classroom space and equipment, and a conference room available to the community for meetings and workshops.”
And when it was obvious there was a need, the RFA didn’t shy away when its help was requested.
The project began in earnest in mid-March when someone from the Greater Redding Chamber of Commerce reached out to the RFA after it received a request from one of the Redding hospitals seeking help making and supplying masks, said Jan Kearns, Co-Executive Director and CEO of the Redding Fashion Alliance Board of Directors. “That started the process of refining a pattern and gathering the people and the supplies necessary to make these (masks).”
According to Kearns, the RFA currently has eight part-time employees and one volunteer who are cutting, assembling kits and making masks.
While RFA members started the face-mask movement in Shasta County, they knew they couldn’t do it all on their own, especially as the mask shortage became more urgent and the demand increased. Kearns knew that for the project to succeed, it must be a community team effort.
North state residents are known for their resilience, compassion and willingness to help in times of need, demonstrated most recently during the 2018 Carr and Camp fires. Now, during the COVID-19 crisis, north state citizens once again rushed in to help. This time, they contributed their time, supplies and sewing skills to help fill a crucial need.
“There has been a tremendous community response to this project, with 200 volunteers who have stepped up to donate materials and make masks,” Kearns said.
Kearns said these 200 volunteers, including Scanlin, are people of all ages and professions who joined the nine RFA members to help the medical community.
Since 2015 the Redding Fashion Alliance has made its mark on the community. As its website explains, the RFA is “committed to improving the lives of Northern California citizens by mobilizing self-sufficiency and providing affordable access to fashion, sewing, and business education while encouraging the growth of the creative economy in order to foster a healthy, prosperous, culturally rich and thriving community.”
With its mission statement already reflecting its members’ desire to help the community, taking on the massive face-mask task was a no-brainer for the staff and everyone involved with the organization.
Kearns said the chosen pattern came from a YouTube video tutorial that the RFA team watched, provided by Deaconness Hospital.
From there, the RFA crew settled on a uniform project plan to ensure quality control and consistency. The outer fabric is 100-percent cotton, although some cotton-poly blends are acceptable, too. The mask-makers started with a non-woven interfacing, either fusible or non-fusible. However, since there’s now a shortage of those materials, Kearns said cloth shop towels have been used as an interfacing replacement. Additional help came from some unexpected sources, such as Sierra Pacific Industries, which donated cloth shop towels after reaching out to some vendors who supplied those items. Flexible wire is incorporated into the masks for nose pieces, and finally face mask straps are fashioned from 1/8″ or /1/4” elastic, or cloth ties sewn on the outside of the mask to help hold the masks in place.
Volunteers pick up the kits and supplies at RFA, and then complete the masks in their own homes. Once the volunteers finish their batch of face masks, they drop them off at Enjoy the Store in downtown Redding. Finally, RFA contacts the various healthcare agencies to arrange for pick-up or delivery.
Kearns said the RFA facility was ideal to tackle a project of this magnitude.
“Because we have the space and capacity to coordinate an endeavor like this, and experience in previous projects, we felt we could assist the community in this manner,” Kearns said.
Exactly how big is this particular endeavor?
Kearns said that to date, the RFA has distributed more than 3500 masks to north state medical personnel, including such facilities as hospitals, medical offices, clinics, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, as well as the Redding Veterans Home.
Even so, the organization doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. Kearns said the plan is to keep creating the masks and kits for as long as the community’s need for masks remains.
Although the mask-making project is a huge undertaking, Kearns derives a great deal of satisfaction from the needs that have been filled and the gratitude that’s been expressed.
“Everyone has been so appreciative that these are available for them,” she said.
As for Scanlin, she praises Kearns, the RFA, and community volunteers for helping where they can.
“I’m really thrilled that people like Jan are taking the initiative and getting the word out and rallying the troops, so to speak,” said Scanlin. “There’s just a lot of giving people in our community.”
Note: At this time the Redding Fashion Alliance is not selling masks to the public, or any other products made by its members. However, Kearns provided two businesses that are making masks to be purchased: Annie’s Styles and Stitches, and Turbans for Tots. The contact information for both places can be found on RFA’s website.
To become involved with the Redding Fashion Alliance project or seek more information, send an email to email@example.com. There are also mask-making tutorials on the RFA website.
If you think you’d like to be involved in the face bask project, but aren’t sure you can make masks, RFA is accepting materials, supplies and donations.