Ali started making masks for her family, now has 39 members
By Shelley Widhalm
Ali Thompson of Berthoud wanted to make three masks for her family and ended up making a hundred—and when the requests kept pouring in, she got a few dozen helpers.
Now, Thompson and her group of mask makers have 39 members, and as of May 8, the Berthoud COVID Mask Group has made 7,368 masks.
It all began April 4 when Thompson, a single mother, made masks for herself and her two children, ages 11 and 12, but she kept going and ended up making 20.
“I started sewing that morning and said, ‘Hey, I have extra masks,’ and it just blew up,” Thompson said.
Thompson, who had her sewing machine packed away for eight years, initially tried to make no-sew masks out of bandannas and hair ties, but she couldn’t get the process to work. She pulled out her machine and found a tutorial on YouTube that explained the steps for sewing masks. She had fabric from “wishful projects” she hadn’t completed and used some of it to make her initial batch, she said.
“I had a lot of extra fabric and elastic and kept sewing,” Thompson said.
Thompson gave some of the masks to friends and offered to give out the rest by posting a Facebook message to her neighbors, saying she has masks on her porch. Her offer ended up getting shared around the Berthoud community, and she got several requests for masks.
Soon, Thompson ran out of the elastic bands she uses to make straps that she adheres to the cloth covering—each yard of elastic makes 2 to 2 ½ masks. She received several donations of strands of elastic, and then someone donated two production spools of ¼-inch elastic totaling 450 yards. She figured she could use it to make more masks.
But by April 6, Thompson realized she needed help. She’d made and distributed more than 100 masks over the first weekend, but it was the only thing she did the entire time, not even getting to her laundry. She saw that the number of requests coming in—initially another 100—exceeded her sewing ability and schedule. She works fulltime; her children have special needs, and now she’s home schooling them.
“This is going to take a village,” Thompson said. “I can’t do this on my own.”
Thompson and her son made a YouTube video, consisting of a tutorial and a plea for help with the sewing. She immediately had women offering help and supplies—her Facebook group grew to the 39 members, all women so far and mostly from Northern Colorado. Donations of fabric, thread and elastic also started coming in, and Stretchline USA in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, donated about 1,000 yards of elastic—Thompson’s co-worker is the son of the owner.
“We thought it would last forever and we would never use it. It lasted a week,” Thompson said.
The masks have been distributed to individuals, nonprofit organizations, military operations and hospitals. The list is extensive and includes the Berthoud Fire Department, McKee Medical Center in Loveland, Children’s Hospital Colorado in Broomfield, hospitals in New York and Minnesota, Homeward 2020 and Larimer County Human Services.
“Most of our volunteers have friends and family working at these places,” Thompson said. “It’s our members are seeing the need.”
In one case, a local woman’s son stationed on a submarine and his crew didn’t have masks, so they used T-shirts to cover their faces. The group sent 150 masks in one day and also is making masks for 800 soldiers on the USS Barry, a Navel guided-missile destroyer—the Air Force will fly them to the ship.
On average, the group makes 200 masks a day on a slow day and 400 to 500 on a fast day.
“It’s turned into a huge operation,” Thompson said.
Thompson spends the week overseeing the administrative tasks and sews masks over the weekend, making up to 50 of them. She handles the group’s requests for fabric and other supplies, initially using text and email, but put up an online form to ease the process. She gathers what’s needed and leaves it in bags for the members to pick up.
“Everybody had their own stash, and we ran out of that, and then we asked for donations,” Thompson said. “A lot of donations come from our Facebook friends. It’s an amazing network. Everybody wants to help, which is amazing, however they can.”
The members drop off their completed masks for Thompson to distribute or gives them directly to their family and friends and those who need them. There also is a giving tree at Hays Market with masks for customers to take.
“Most of the members don’t know each other. I don’t know some of the members. It’s incredible,” Thompson said.
The group does not accept cash donations but does accept donations of fabric, old T-shirts, thread, elastic and “thank you” photos of recipients wearing the masks. The group also needs more volunteers to sew and to pick up and deliver supplies. For details, email [email protected]
“This is people trying to help however they can. It’s very cool,” Thompson said. “My mind is blown away every day at how amazing this group of women is. … The more sewers, the merrier. … As we grow, the faster we can get masks out.”
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