Crafters sew masks for hospital workers, others in Pullman area

Facebook groups bring people who want to help together; materials are in short supply

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PHOTO COURTESY JILL ELBRACHT

EMMA LEDBETTER, Evergreen reporter

Residents of Pullman and surrounding communities are making cloth face masks to fill the need for personal protective equipment on the Palouse and to support their neighbors and local healthcare workers.

Jill Elbracht, a nurse practitioner and Pullman resident, said she saw a news article from Spokane that inspired her to start a group for making masks. 

Elbracht said she does not sew, but she has many friends who do. After her initial Facebook post received comments from many people who can sew, Elbracht started a Facebook group for local mask makers. 

The group, Let’s Face It With Love, now has over 100 members who are sewing, donating fabric and delivering masks to local organizations in need, she said. 

Karen Phoenix, clinical assistant professor of history at WSU, said she was inspired to make masks because she is part of another Facebook group called Whitman County COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Page.

Phoenix said she saw different Facebook friends posting about what their local hospitals needed, so she looked at Pullman Regional Hospital’s website for mask-making instructions.

“Different hospitals are doing different things and want different things,” Phoenix said. 

PHOTO COURTESY JILL ELBRACHT

PRH is providing black bags of sterile surgical wrap to make masks, according to the hospital website

Elbracht said her group has donated masks to PRH, Gritman Medical Center in Moscow, Bishop Place Senior Living, Regency Pullman and Avalon Care Center. 

“We’re just learning all the time about different essential businesses or employees in the community who maybe aren’t healthcare workers but still have a lot of direct contact with the public,” Elbracht said. 

Group members are currently working on mask requests from local physical therapy clinics, Alternatives to Violence on the Palouse, Pullman Police Department and the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. 

“I never envisioned it being more than just a few of us moms maybe [making] masks to take to one facility,” Elbracht said. “It’s just blossomed into this community-wide project.”

A lot of the supplies needed to make masks, such as elastic and pipe cleaners, are in short supply, Phoenix said. 

“There’s a certain amount of ‘MacGyvering’ you have to do,” Phoenix said.

Making masks is labor intensive, Phoenix said. People who have sewing machines and already know how to sew are best suited for it. 

“There are lots of ways to help,” Phoenix said. “You just have to pick which one you can do.”

Debbie McNeil, a Pullman resident and retired schoolteacher, said she contacted PRH because she wanted to make masks and had more fabric than she knew what to do with. 

McNeil said she spends 10 hours each day making masks and has made over 100 now. 

When it comes to helping others in the community, McNeil said she believes it is best to wait for a need to be identified before trying to address it. 

“I think it’s important for people to help,” McNeil said, “but I also think it’s important that they don’t overwhelm an emergency situation with things they can’t use.”

McNeil said not everyone can help in every way and there are other ways to contribute besides making masks. 

“The essence of me is to help others and look for a need,” McNeil said. “What better thing to do than help people when you’re quarantined at home?”