California volunteers sew hospital masks for healthcare workers

Hospitals and clinics have been clamoring for protective masks, and now North Bay volunteers have answered the call. 

In just a few days, 700 people, organized via a Facebook group, have sewn 250 cloth masks.

They have requests for 2,500 more. 

"I thought, well what can I do sitting at home," said volunteer Clementine Lee, in front of her sewing machine in Petaluma. "Is that as good as it gets? No, I can do this!"  

Lee is a professional clothing maker, so she is well-equipped to sew masks.

She expects to churn out 150 this week, with her teenage daughter's help.  

"I'm absolutely astounded there are so many nurses in need and that we would expect them to re-use their N9-5 mask," said Lee.

Reports of medical staff rationing and re-using masks are widespread. 

The cloth masks aren't meant to replace them, but provide a washable shield for their main mask.  

"These are for people who don't have anything, and to also extend the life of their current mask, because they are running out," said another sewing volunteer Laura Miera-Verniers, of Santa Rosa. 

Miera-Verniers is a retired clothing executive, but was motivated to start stitching masks because she has two daughters working with the public, one in a hospital. 

""Women are afraid for their families, and as a mom, I'm going to do whatever I can." 

The effort began with a handful of friends in a moms group.

"We thought maybe we'd get ten or twelve to sew," said organizer Natalie Hoytt, "and then it just exploded overnight to 700."

Participants connected on a Facebook page: North Bay Sewists Unite!

Materials and designs have all been vetted as appropriate for a medical setting.

There are four different patterns, the most basic suitable for a beginner.  

Hoytt has a box in front of her house, for volunteers to pick-up fabric and drop off finished masks.

As happy as she is at the project's success, she wishes it wasn't necessary.   

"I think the fact that the best they can get right now is craft supplies, is sad," said Hoytt. 

But making deliveries to clinics and hospitals, she says, is gratifying.

"They're very very grateful to get them and I think they feel very supported and loved by the community."

The Sonoma County Medical Association has been coordinating requests for the handmade masks. 

"Major hospitals, we have orders from Kaiser, Saint Joseph Memorial, Sutter," said association Executive Director Wendy Young. 

Some facilities want the masks as back-ups, and others will use them over the N-95 or other masks.

The CDC has told medical personnel that if they have nothing at all, to wear a bandanna. 

"We collectively said we can do better than a bandanna and that's when we came up with these," said Young. 

While staying home, families are sewing masks together, and participants range in age from 7 to early 80's.

Volunteer Lee is making her masks from colorful, whimsical fabric that she hopes not only keeps workers safe, but lifts their spirits. 

"If I can make them smile while they're in a war zone basically, then I feel a lot better about what I'm doing."  

In addition to medical institutions, grocery stores and delivery services are also requesting masks to help protect their employees.  

Debora Villalon is a reporter forKTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU