We’re told to look for the helpers during this COVID-19 crisis. Fortunately, we don’t have to look far.

It doesn’t take binoculars to see all the generous contributions from community members and manufacturers.

But there’s still need.

Spectrum Health is seeking more homemade masks for non-clinical team members and residents in its long-term care facilities.

The health system’s leaders are also looking for donations to distribute to non-Spectrum Health medical facilities and long-term care communities, believing that sharing and protecting more people is the right thing to do.

Want to help? Watch this Spectrum Health mask-making tutorial.

Here are drop-off locations and times.

Mask makers

Virginia Wieringa of Grand Rapids has been sewing masks daily. Each mask takes 20 to 25 minutes to fabricate.

“I stopped counting at 150,” the Grand Rapids resident said. “So many people are doing this. You can’t get a piece of elastic in town.”

Fortunately, before fabric stores closed, Wieringa stocked up.

“I just keep pushing fabric through (the sewing machine),” she said. “It just seems like a positive thing to do. We’re powerless against this virus. This just seems like something we can do to help.”

Wieringa joined a local Facebook group called Crafters Combatting COVID.

“They started this group on a Friday and by Monday there were 1,500 members,” Wieringa said. “One of the people who started it lives in Eastown. She has a box on her front porch. People are bringing masks and there are runners who will go pick up masks and supplies. It’s a whole cottage industry. It’s amazing.”

Besides her masks going to Spectrum Health, she gives them to people from church who work in non-clinical settings, such as visiting nurses, social workers and elderly visitors.

“All of these people are using cloth masks rather than regular medical equipment because we want to keep that for medical workers who need it,” Wieringa said. “I’ve heard feedback from people—some of them have asked to have different fabric on each side so they could tell which was the back of the mask.”

Wieringa makes masks that can accommodate filters. Coffee filters seem to work well.

“It’s been a real learning experience,” she said. “I ordered 300 yards of elastic so I can do masks now that go around the head. I’m an artist by trade, but when this came up, it kind of justified my fabric stash. It’s just nice to know I’m helping in some small way.”

Maddie Taylor, an East Grand Rapids Middle School sixth-grader, has created about 60 masks for Spectrum Health non-clinical employees.

“I wanted to help my community,” Maddie said.

Maddie, who has been sewing for six years, typically makes pillows, stuffed animals and clothes. With schools closed, and state-mandated stay-at-home orders, Maddie said she misses her friends. Sewing helps fill the time.

“I do a lot of different designs,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’m being helpful because I’ve never really done stuff like this before.”

Medical and community needs

Sarah Chartier, sustainability coordinator for Spectrum Health, said the ask for masks goes beyond Spectrum Health needs.

She predicts more masks and precautions taken in the community will help reduce the number of people who ultimately need to seek hospital care for COVID-19.

“We’re providing masks for employees who are still working in offices but not within our hospital care settings,” she said. “We’re providing them to (patients) at our long-term care facilities, first-responders and community organizations. It’s really focused on reducing the spread within our community.”

Chartier said nearly 7,000 homemade masks have been donated so far. And Spectrum Health is willing to share the wealth.

“We have the logistics and capability to collect and distribute them to community partners,” she said. “That makes it more streamlined with less people having to be out and about. By focusing on non-medical grade personal protection equipment, we’re able to conserve those products for our clinicians.”

Chartier said she’s amazed by the community generosity in this critical time of need, especially since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ramped up its recommendations.

“The CDC recommends that everyone wear a mask when they leave home,” she said. “That’s why we decided to do a formal call (for more mask donations). The response has been incredible. It’s really a silver lining in our current situation to experience the generosity and compassion of our community wanting to do something. On a personal level, it provides a sense of contributing and hope in solving the problem. That’s another incredible piece of this.”

Chartier asked that the online instructions be followed as much as possible.

“We reviewed the mask guidelines with our infection prevention team,” she said. “This was the recommended style.”

Also, please wash the material before making masks because the material may shrink.

Chartier said the initiative includes distributing masks in the more than two dozen counties that Spectrum Health serves, based upon need and those at highest risk of exposure.

“There are many individuals at Spectrum Health supporting this effort,” she said. “We’re working with other departments to evaluate community need. It’s a team effort.”

Kristen Sinke, director of value analysis, is one of those team members. She leads nurses within the Spectrum Health supply chain who focus on bringing new products into the organization.

“With the COVID-19 response, and with the PPE shortage worldwide, our focus was on getting medical care masks to patient care employees, but we also wanted protection for other employees and the community to protect people,” Sinke said.

Team members reached out to leaders in non-clinical areas to determine the number of employees coming into work every day. By the end of the first day, they had distributed more than 500 homemade masks.

“We were really meeting a need we didn’t even know was there,” Sinke said. “We’ve had a lot of masks created by community members that just wanted to help.”

Besides community members sewing masks, Chaco, a Rockford-based sandal manufacturer that’s part of Wolverine World Wide, flipped its specialty from summer shoes to masks.

“They’re really whipping them out for us,” Sinke said. “Chaco has donated more than 1,000 masks so far. They said they’ll make as many as we want. And they’re 100% donated.”