Making Masks and Other Ways Volunteers Find Ways to Help


    Orinda residents of all ages mobilized their talents to battle the coronavirus pandemic, many making quite a departure from the skill sets previously required to succeed in their “day jobs.”
    Two endeavors which involved a substantial amount of socially-distanced, community teamwork include the It Takes a Village face shield and face mask effort, and surgical gown initiative led by the Orinda Rotary Club.
    It Takes a Village was organized by Oaklander Shelly Wong, who created a Facebook group and began recruiting friends and family to cut and craft plastic facial protective gear, and cut and sew surgical masks after learning of the projected mass safety-gear shortages in Bay Area and New York hospitals. 
    “We started working on this project in late March with about 15 people,” said Emily Wu of Orinda, a private banker with First Republic Bank, who has been working from home by day, but in her down time assists in the mask-making production line.
    As of mid-April, this consolidated effort attracted more than 65 sewists, 10 fabric cutters, five elastic cutters, five launderers, five families making face shields and two drivers. 
    “It’s amazing to count the volunteers we have today,” Wu said. “Everyone wants to help. It’s heartwarming.”
    Because all tasks take place in the homes of individual volunteers, photos posted in the Facebook group are helpful to provide a sense of teamwork and accomplishment. 
    It Takes a Village also tapped the abilities and goodwill of the home bound older children of the numerous volunteers. In some homes, three generations are working together for the cause, something many have never experienced in their lifetimes.
    By early April the group had manufactured about 4,000 surgical masks and more than 350 plastic facial shields, sanitized and shipped them to hospitals in San Francisco, Alameda and New York.
    “San Francisco women’s clothing manufacturer Bryn Walker supplied beautiful fabric and many of the difficult-to-obtain accessories, such as elastic,” Wu said.
    “I have never met most of you, yet I know you are excited as I am to get one more mask or face shield to the front line every day,” founder Wong wrote as she thanked volunteers from all over the Bay Area.
    “If I have enough fabric, sometimes I can sew 100 masks in a day,” said Orindan Vanessa Bell, who is an interior lighting designer by profession but has always known her way around a sewing machine. “I’m sure I’ve made over 500 by now.”
    Dan Gannett, president of the Orinda Rotary Club and independent financial planner by profession, recently found himself learning the surgical gown manufacturing ropes.  
    “One of our Orinda Rotarians, epidemiologist Dr. Yenjean Hwang, alerted us to the projected shortage of personal protective equipment at Alta Bates Summit Hospital,” Gannett said. The Orinda chapter sprang into action to source materials, fund, and, perhaps most importantly, craft a viable plan of action. 
    “We needed around 450 gowns in a very short time,” Gannett said.
    In this case, his team decided not to farm the project out to a wide array of individuals. Instead, after speaking with several small business-owners in the tailoring industry, the Rotarians decided to hire a group of tailors from a furloughed cut-and-sew shop in Oakland, as well as employ Joseph’s Tailoring in Lafayette, all of whom agreed to provide the labor at a deep discount.
    “This way we could keep these small businesses afloat, as well as have the gowns ready quickly, as time was of the essence,” he said. 
    Gannett explained how fabric was sourced from Los Angeles, shipping was donated, Diablo Rapid Print provided the necessary copies of the life-sized gown patterns, and large quantities of accessories, such as elastic, currently in high demand due to its use in facial masks, was obtained. It took a different village to complete this crucial project as well.
    And yet another Rotary Club, Lamorinda Sunrise Rotary, joined Volunteer Surge, an international effort to provide support to healthcare workers. The initiative provides free online training for volunteer community health workers to perform basic caretaking tasks so professionals can focus on the most acute cases.
    According to Orinda Rotarian Chris Laszcz-Davis, the goal is to train 1,000,000 volunteers via two courses. One is a 30-35 hour class which provides 75 percent of the requirements needed to become a certified nurse assistant. The other is an 8- to 10-hour course to train telehealth volunteers who work from home to check on vulnerable peopled sheltered at home, and refer them to health care providers as needed.
    Others in town found their own unique ways to help.
    Songstress Leslie Darwin O’Brien performed socially-distant courtyard concerts Thursday evenings for the residents of Orinda Senior Village, who watch and applaud from their balconies.
    Dan Swander and wife Ann Lawrence worked tirelessly to fundraise and keep the Warm Winter Nights Shelter for displaced families intact.
    Photographer Terry Riggins snapped socially-distanced “Porch Portraits” for donations to Contra Costa Food Bank.
    Children decorated the empty streets with motivational chalked messages, and made signs to cheer postal and delivery workers.
    “Busy hands keep me sane,” observed mask-maker Vanessa Bell.
    Apparently, many others agree.

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