Benicians Bodil and Larnie Fox had assumed that they would be spending their shelter-in-place time working in their studios. Both of them are artists and also veterans of nonprofit organizations. Their plans quickly changed on a morning walk on March 20 when they ran into their neighbor, Marcella Spurgeon, a labor and delivery nurse at Kaiser Vallejo. A simple “how’s it going?” from Bodil elicited an emotional story about the lack of Personal Protective Equipment, especially medical masks, and the fear and uncertainty that the nurses there were experiencing. Bodil wondered if a hand-sewn mask would help, and Marcella responded with an enthusiastic “YES!” The next day Bodil began sewing masks, and found that her friend Ruby Wallis was also sewing them and had designed one that could be sewn quickly, and worn over an N95 mask to extend its life. Bodil and Larnie made a video showing how to make a “Ruby” style mask, and posted it on YouTube. They sent out a group email asking for help making masks and identifying needs in the healthcare community. The call for help was posted on social media. The response was overwhelming, so Larnie volunteered to help coordinate the many people who wanted to sew or donate fabric and Benicia nurses desperate for any sort of protection, in an effort to free Bodil’s time for mask sewing. That didn’t last long. Within a couple days it was obvious that coordinating the project would be a more than full-time job for both of them, 10 or 11 hours every day of the week.
Fast forward to mid April.
At this point the project has provided over 3,000 masks to 28 different healthcare facilities, including hospitals all over the Bay Area, nursing homes, veterans homes, and other medical facilities. The group is focusing only on front line nurses and other healthcare workers.
As Bodil says, “It takes a village – and that village is Benicia!”
At this writing, over 50 people are sewing masks at home, with other volunteers cutting fabric, organizing, making delivery runs, doing free sewing machine repairs, and donating fabric and elastic. Neighbor Darrell Lee and people from the Benicia Makerspace led by Aaron Newcomb are using 3-D printers to make “ear guards“ that fit around the back of the head and pull the elastic away from the raw ears of our heroic healthcare workers. Bodil and Larnie’s porch has become the distribution center, with social distancing practiced, frequent spritzings with rubbing alcohol, and quarantining of materials coming and going. Most importantly, nurses and health care professionals, in addition to their life-saving work, are distributing hundreds of artistic, reusable, hand-sewn masks to their coworkers.
The nurses and their colleagues send cards and notes of gratitude like this one from Gina Mac of Kaiser Vacaville:
“Thank you to the Benicia sewing group for the generous donation of beautiful masks. Your masks will help us stay safe and keep our patients safe. We are grateful for your hard work. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
The nurses also send pictures of themselves wearing masks which are shared with the mask makers, much to their delight – especially when they see a nurse wearing a mask that they have made.
Everyone involved knows that these masks are far from ideal, but they are much better than the nothing that many of our nurses, EMTs, and other professionals have been given.
Bodil and Larnie are looking forward to going out of business and back to their studios, just as soon as our heroic healthcare professionals get the PPE they need and deserve.