Masking the Problem

Kathy Bates

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing." – Theodore Roosevelt

The pandemic has been and still is a world-changing event. It's these types of tragedies that shine a light on some of our most basic needs, food, shelter and support. Fortunately, leadership and creativity are often born out of adversity, giving us the strength to recognize problems and solve them. We come together and everyone's contribution is necessary and valued. This is a productive way to cope. In this blog post I will discuss a really great example of how community has come together to tackle the problem of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortages.

When I heard that the Seacoast Mask Makers were going to make masks for all of the Direct Support workers employed by Granite State Independent Living (GSIL) in the Seacoast area, I was impressed and grateful because the kind of support most of us need is up close and personal. I wanted to know more so I emailed Javi Kalback, one of the group administrators for their Facebook pages. She told me that the group began on March twenty first, when a call was put out to a number of local Facebook pages asking for help making masks for local hospitals in need. It soon became clear however, that there were several smaller organizations that also needed PPE. They have been able to supply masks for 185 organizations (some more than once), including retirement homes, small medical practices, hospice services, correctional facilities, first responders and retailers.

As of right now the volunteer army is 2,052 members strong. The success of this amazing undertaking is their hub and delivery model. Javi explained that, "volunteers sew masks based upon a standard pattern, and then drop them off at a number of hubs across the Seacoast. They can use their own 100% cotton fabrics and elastic or can pick up materials to use at the hubs. At the end of the day, each hub submits their counts to the coordinators, and then we distribute masks to organizations in need based upon location and numbers required. We've been doing this daily since March."

This large-scale operation which has helped so many organizations has received many donations. It's a mix of both personal materials from Facebook members and supplies collected from hubs. The Seacoast Mask Makers have received many generous donations from craft and fabric retailers such as JoAnn's Fabric in Rochester, JRenee Designs in Rye, Pin tuck and Purl in North Hampton, Portsmouth Fabric Company and Harrisville Designs. Donations can be made on their website and they welcome contributions that will go towards the purchase of more materials. Any questions can be directed to or visit to learn more. According to the most recent numbers, The Fosters Daily Democrat reports that The Seacoast Mask Makers have donated 30,000 medical face masks to organizations in need.

From Where I Sit…These masks are so beautiful they should be considered a fashion accessory. This is community organizing at its best and there is no telling how many seacoast residents have benefited from them. I am sure that everyone is thankful for the extra protection. I know my Direct Support Workers and I are especially thankful for all the Mask Makers, volunteers and supporters.

This organizational approach is effective because each person plays a valued role in the team. Each individual job may not seem that important, but together they are a well oiled machine. The point is maybe someone can’t do the whole job, but that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute. That’s the definition of customized employment! Everyone can focus on their own unique abilities. In this case, more experienced sewists taught novices how to sew. After learning how to sew, they felt really good because they were able to contribute. This is great natural support. We should use this team approach more often when we think about employment opportunities for people with disabilities.