A discussion among friends led to the creation of a Facebook group — SWLA Project Face Mask — at noon on Friday. By bedtime, there were 500 members ready to make face masks for those in the medical community on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19, and more than 200 masks ready for delivery.
Terry LaFleur Collins, a Calcasieu Parish School Board employee set up the Facebook group and her friend and fellow seamstress Dr. Ann Warner, co-coordinator of the graduate nursing program at McNeese, is working with local hospitals and other health care providers to get an idea of the need.
Collins said the project began as just a few friends making masks. She said the number of responses and coordinating the volunteers has been a little overwhelming.
"It's like flying a plane while you're still building it," she said.
Collins said they are working diligently to make sure they don't donate more than what's needed to each health care facility.
"We really want to handle all of these masks responsibly," she said. "These health care workers are the ones who are going to be taking care of us. We need to take care of them, too."
Collins also wants each mask to be handled by as few hands as possible to minimize risk of contamination.
Warner said local hospitals are prepared and have enough masks and other Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, for their staff. The masks are being made to provide backup in case the demand becomes extraordinarily high.
Any masks collected will be delivered to health care providers only and none will be sold for profit.
"The good thing about this project is, it's individuals doing it in their home," Warner said. "This allows a lot of different people to help."
One local business, Stine Lumber, has joined the mission. They donated 250 feet of wire to the group.
The 200-plus masks made were crafted by 19 individual or group volunteers. Flowers 2 Fabric owner Tonya Moak, along with a few other ladies, are responsible for half of them. That batch has already been given to the High Hope Care Center staff.
Collins said by Monday, she wouldn't be surprised to find double that amount in the drop-off boxes.
She said she is extremely proud to live in a community so willing to help.
"This is a call to action for all with the ability to sew," said Collins. "God needs our skills and talent. And this is a way to show God's love."
Warner encourages everyone to listen to and follow the guidelines for social isolation. "Don't hoard supplies, call those who are alone," she said. "Try to keep as much of a regular routine as possible — eat well, exercise, and be as healthy as possible. Hopefully we'll be finished with this soon."