Volunteer group makes, distributes thousands of PPE
By Jessica Laskey
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Karla Burgess has gotten a “glimpse of the best in people” thanks to her work as logistics coordinator for Folsom Mask Makers, an all-volunteer group of local seamstresses formed in mid-March to address the community’s chronic lack of pandemic personal protective equipment.
To date, the group has produced nearly 65,000 masks, 2,650 scrub caps, 1,310 visual masks, hundreds of 3D-printed face shields, and thousands of crocheted and 3D-printed ear savers. They’ve donated to more than 350 hospitals, medical and dental groups, care homes, schools, nonprofit and community organizations, and emergency service agencies in Sacramento, Placer and El Dorado counties.
“I often stop and wonder how we’re pulling this off,” says Burgess, who manages volunteers and supplies, serves as a community liaison and oversees special teams for customized projects. “These numbers are incredible in normal times, but now people are doing so many other things and are still willing to give of themselves and their hearts. It’s incredibly humbling to work with these volunteers.”
Burgess joined FMM after seeing group co-founder Janet Cottrill’s post on Facebook in early March asking for help making PPE that were in very short supply. Burgess immediately contacted FMM’s other co-founder, Cottrill’s neighbor KC Endeman, to see how she could help. Endeman told Burgess the group desperately needed more volunteers to sew masks, as well as contacts in the medical field to coordinate drop-offs. The request was a perfect fit for Burgess, a former ICU RN off work due to health issues, who was tired of sitting on the sidelines.
“I’m a fixer,” she says. “In the ICU, you walk in and it’s full of problems, so you ask, ‘What can I do?’” What she could do for FMM “was help get people masks that allow them to follow protocols and stay safe.”
Burgess and fellow administrators Karen Hamer and Cathy Hamman helped FMM develop a network of 200 active sewers—many of whom are experienced seamstresses and quilters donating their own material to the cause—and other non-sewing (but no less crucial) volunteers who are divided into teams for pick-up and drop-off driving, cutting, sewing, kit-making, 3D printing, washing, ironing and more.
“What’s kept me involved is Karla’s and Karen’s steadfast dedication … while being tremendously organized,” says Carmichael resident Kathie Vaughn, an avid quilter and two-time breast cancer survivor who has made 1,500 masks since she joined the group in March. “They make it really easy to be involved and make everyone feel like they’re contributing.”
Burgess fields requests through the FMM Facebook page and assigns tasks to a membership that now tops 3,000 people in three counties. The group also accepts custom orders, such as scrub caps in small sizes for pediatric oncology patients, and specialized masks with clear vinyl inserts to facilitate lip reading and soft cording for autistic patients. Other masks allow the use of hearing aids and oxygen tubing, and fit over medical-grade N95 masks to keep them cleaner for longer.
“There’s a task for everybody,” Burgess says. “If you can sew, let us know and we’ll provide you with everything you need (except a sewing machine). If you can’t, you can donate through GoFundMe, Venmo or our Amazon Wishlist so we can buy supplies.
“Find what you like to do and we’ll put you on that team. It’s amazing to be able to put all the tension and stress from the pandemic into something tangible.
“What started as cotton sitting on a shelf is, in the end, something that will make your fellow community member safer—full of all the love that went into making it.”