The saying “It takes a village” is an African proverb that refers to the raising of a child. For the Flourish Foundation’s Community MasquerAID Initiative, the saying seems appropriate since the project truly has involved so many members of the community coming together during a time of need. What originally started as a small group of women hand-sewing face masks for the community has blossomed into a full initiative involving multiple organizations, numerous stitchers, state-of-the-art laser technology, a group of high school students in the Flourish Foundation Compassionate Leaders program, and a whole lot of thankful recipients.
Before it reached the Flourish Foundation, the Community MasquerAID Initiative was a nameless project born out of the vision and leadership of Barbara Knowles, a local retired nurse originally from Seattle. After learning of the virus and shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment; i.e., masks, gloves, etc.) in her hometown, Knowles began to plan for the same potential shortages in Ketchum. She researched the best types of masks—including consulting her neighbor, a retired ER doctor, as well as other health providers—to help prevent rapid spread. Knowles then submitted a proposal to the Rotary Club of Hailey and received a $1,000 grant to begin making masks. Knowles enlisted the help of a professional seamstress and friend to help her make the first ones in mid-March.
“The first masks were a big success; we had a lot of positive feedback,” Knowles said.
While buying fabric at a local store, Knowles learned of the local 5Bee Quilt Guild and recruited them to help make masks and, soon after, received a second $1,000 grant from Rotary, as well. From those first two grants, they were able to make 1,869 masks between almost 50 stitchers.
“It was such a positive thing for people to do in such a time of uncertainty and isolation, wanting to help but not knowing what to do,” Knowles said.
To make sure the most vulnerable of the area’s population received masks, Knowles called the Safe Haven assisted living facility in Bellevue, The Hunger Coalition, and The Senior Connection. Both Safe Haven and The Senior Connection said yes to the masks, but The Hunger Coalition said they could only accept if they got 1,000 masks—enough to provide one to everybody in their distribution pool in a one-week period. Knowles and her team of stitchers rolled up their sleeves and got it done.
Serendipitously, someone stepped in at just the right time to help ramp up production: Bill Amaya, the owner of Beyond Wood in Hailey, a company that brings state-of-the-art fabrication techniques to cabinetmaking. Amaya has a laser cutting and engraving robot which he volunteered to use to precisely cut the mask material into the patterns needed to make the masks.
“We all need masks,” Amaya said. “It feels good to do something for the community but also, I have really cool technology and being able to deploy it do something that has some heart feels good.”
As the project grew, the need for donations and an organization to handle the logistics became necessary, sparking a collaboration with Flourish Foundation, a local nonprofit that provides education and training in attention, compassion and resilience for adults, teens and children to help reduce stress and find greater balance. Ryan Redman, the founder and executive director of Flourish Foundation, came forward and said they would become the umbrella organization for the project. The Community MasquerAID Initiative was born.
With the Flourish Foundation involved, there are now even more hands on the project, with the Flourish Foundation’s group of volunteer Compassionate Leaders putting in several hours three times a week to help cut the materials for the masks. In collaboration with the Flourish Foundation, Herbert Romero’s Outdoor Hispanic Leaders/Young Achievers program is also volunteering their time, as well.
“Making and wearing masks shows we care enough about each other to try to protect ourselves … It shows solidarity with the rest of the world. We may be a small community but we are strong and willing to sacrifice a little independence for the good of the community and the world.”
— Cindy Hamilin, Community MasquerAID Initiative Stitcher
Since stepping in, Flourish Foundation has helped logistically make the chain of production smoother, from picking up the mask kits from stitchers to providing the masks to organizations like the Crisis Hotline, Blaine County Recreation District, Idaho BaseCamp, and more. They’ve even begun making small cards to go with each mask with “tips for well-being” printed on them.
All in all, since the pandemic started and Barbara Knowles had the idea to make some masks, this new community initiative has engaged countless people and had a positive effect on so many. It has truly taken a village. And with that teamwork and collaboration, to date [June 2020] more than 3,100 masks have been donated to organizations in need.
For more information on the MasquerAID Initiative, to donate, or to order masks, please visit flourishfoundation.org/masqueraid.