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Mill Valley Masketeers

The Marin Masketeers: Making homemade masks during the COVID-19 pandemic


To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour. ~ Winston Churchill

Like so many Marin County residents, Louise Dockstader was sheltering in place and wondering how she could help others from afar during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the owner of Once Around, an arts and crafts store in Mill Valley, she had an idea when she heard an appeal from Governor Gavin Newsom about the need for homemade masks.

Dockstader realized she had thousands of yards of fabric in storage at her shuttered store and an old 1904 Singer sewing machine that she keeps at her home, so she decided to do something about it. She started sewing masks, and she began offering fabric to others at cost, if they would volunteer to help do that same.

Dockstader’s skill set is partly inherited. A native of England, she is the daughter of a fashion designer. “My mom taught me all the bad habits, which is how you make everything very quickly, and all the good habits, like how to get the most out of a piece of fabric,” she said. “I picked up all the tricks of the trade.”

Meanwhile, Lee Budish, a Tam Valley resident and community activist, was working on a parallel track. Budish, the daughter of Italian immigrants whose mother was a sewing machine factory worker in the New York City garment district, was a whiz on her 1989 Singer.

As Budish explained,

“About a month ago, a Sutter Health doctor and a Santa Rosa Memorial nurse pleaded for sewn masks on the Next Door website. I could sew and I responded but they needed so many I couldn’t keep up — I posted a note of Next Door for help and every week we have had more volunteers.”

Then Dianne Featherstone, a Strawberry resident and Next Door reader, suggested they call themselves “the Mill Valley Masketeers” and the nascent sewing group was born.

Dockstader and Budish’s paths inevitably crossed and they quickly realized they both shared the same passion to do what they could to help those in need of masks, so they decided to coordinate their efforts.

Budish got in contact with Supervisor Sears and Dr. Lisa M. Santora, Deputy Public Health Officer. The County was delighted by the offer and drew up a contract with the Louise Dockstader to cover their costs in production.

The result of all this has been two groups with dozens of volunteers working on making and distributing masks throughout the region and even to other states to alleviate the incredible shortages. Henceforth, the Marin Masketeers are providing masks to County Agencies (with county support) and the Mill Valley Masketeers are providing masks for the vulnerable and groups in need (without county support).

Since they launched, Dockstader and Budish have received a flood of desperate online pleas from health care workers, government officials, and community groups. They’ve done everything they can to fill the needs. Lee Budish is also encouraging surrounding communities to do the same.

For example, Dockstader’s group recently delivered more than 400 masks to the Marin County Sheriff’s Office in Terra Linda, with some going to Fire Department personnel, and inmates at the Marin County Jail.

“It makes me feel like I’m doing something productive, and everybody who is helping us says the same thing,” said Dockstader, who lived in Mill Valley for about 20 years but now calls Bolinas home. “Even if they’re making only four masks a day, it saves them from feeling helpless. There is definitely a real need here, so we’ll do this as long as there is a need.”

“We’re using 100% tight-weave cotton, the exact type that medical people said was best to use,” she said. “The Governor said there were front-line public health workers who couldn’t get masks, and that made me think about all this fabric and equipment I had access to. So I put out a message about it and hoped somebody would see it.”

County official, Angela Nicholson said, “As hard as this catastrophe has been for resident of our community, the Masketeers are a perfect example of people stepping up to serve n life-changing ways. The effort by the Masketeers is inspiring. These local residents are contributing to the health of our whole community by volunteering their time to make face covers for people who desperately need them in our community. Those include our inmates at the jail so we avoid a catastrophic outbreak in that communal living setting.”

Meanwhile, Budish’s group of volunteers that she calls “sewing magicians with magical sewing machines,” who are operating without county support, have been scrambling to address the flood of requests. They now have a group of about 30 sewers from all backgrounds and all ages including a couple who are in their mid-70s — he cuts and she sews.

Budish added, “I really want people to know about the extraordinary kindness of some of the people in Marin. In particular, our sewers: strangers who have come together volunteering their time to protect our community by producing these masks.”

The Mill Valley Masketeers sewed and delivered 500 masks to all the Redwoods residents and staff, sending off another 350 to the Marin Food Bank, 150 masks to nurses at the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, and to Marin County Mental Health. But things are so bad at the frontlines that ER nurses from both UCSF and Kaiser SF has asked Budish if the Masketeers could make them scrub hats.

Budish has even received a request for masks from a Medi-Cal & VA funded program helping homeless/unstably housed in Oakland, and a desperate request from the Red Lake and Hard Rock chapters of the Navajo people in Arizona, who are very much impacted by the coronavirus because most do not have running water and cannot wash their hands enough. They also have a large population of seniors that is in great danger. The groups includes about 150 people and approximately 80 families, and they only have about 2 dozen masks to share.

“I have one hand on my phone and the other on the machine,” Budish says. But her group is determined to help them out.

Budish is also motivated personally because she has family in Italy and in New York City, two areas that have been devastated by the coronavirus. And she has two sisters in New York who are, thankfully, recovering from Covid-19.

“I know that each mask we make may save a life, and that is not an exaggeration,” she said. “A simple thing such as a mask, which takes 15 minutes to make, may save a life. So, I feel very good but also very sad because we can’t keep up with demand and save everyone.”

Budish notes that mask sewing groups are popping up in every city –not just in the United States but around the world. She says, "History will record these groups such as the Masketeers as the ‘Rosie the Riveters’ of our time."

Coincidentally, the Bay Area is home to the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park.

HOW YOU CAN HELP!

If you would like to join the efforts of the Mill Valley Masketeers or the Marin Masketeers, please contact Lee Budish or Louise Dockstader.

Volunteer!

To volunteer for the Marin Masketeers, CLICK HERE to contact Louise Dockstader. For more information check the Once Around website.

To volunteer for the Mill Valley Masketeers, CLICK HERE to contact Lee Budish.

Donate Supplies!

Mill Valley Masketeers need donations of fabric and elastic for head straps (“It’s the new toilet paper,” says Budish) for their efforts that are not funded by support from Marin County.

To donate supplies CLICK HERE to contact Lee Budish.