Area groups provide PPE nationwide

A frontline worker at Harborview receives an isolation gown prototype from Stop the Bug. Victory Lonnquist courtesy photo

What started out as an effort to manufacture and supply face masks for the local healthcare industry has turned into a nation-wide crusade as Gratitude Masks of Woodinville has partnered with Seattle-based STOP THE BUG to provide PPE (personal protection equipment) to frontline workers across the country.

“As a person who is part of the management team of an acute medical detox facility in Lynnwood, I was anxious about the fact that our nursing staff would soon be left without proper personal protective equipment such as masks,” said Nikki Speaks, founder of Gratitude Masks. “I thought no better way to help than to just make them some. I wanted to do something and that was something that I could do.”

Speaks put her plan into action on March 18. But as a self-described “inexperienced sewer” she knew it could take quite a while to produce a large number of masks, so she reached out to the Woodinville community to ask for assistance.

“Little did I know, I would get that assistance within minutes and needed a medium to connect with everyone volunteering,” Speaks said. “So, I started the Gratitude Masks Facebook page. People continued to reach out wanting to help make masks and offer supplies such as fabric and elastic.”

Her appeal for a few helpers has now turned into more than 250 members volunteering their time to the cause.

One of those members is Susie Snyder, who Speaks said, “has been a huge help.”

“She reached out almost immediately offering to cut fabric as she recognized that it was not a one-person job,” Speaks said. “I have been delivering fabric to her almost daily only to return the next day to have the fabric all cut, nicely wrapped and ready to be sown. We would not be able to do any of this without her.”

Turns out this sort of a thing was right in Snyder’s bailiwick

“I found the group from a post on the Woodinville Community Facebook page. I was member No. 42 and followed it for a week or so until I realized that Nikki was the only one cutting the fabric. That’s when I reached out to her with an offer to cut,” Snyder said. “I’m a fabric freak and to this day I still have fabric I purchased in 1972 because I just love it!”

Snyder has more than 50 years of experience in what she calls the “rag” business. She’s worked for a company making designer jeans, supervised a shop that was making blouses for the Bon Marche and Nordstrom, made Christmas stocking for Hopelink in Kirkland and was a member of the Australia Fire and rescue sewing group.

“All of us in Nikki’s sewing group is doing this for the sole purpose of wanting to make a difference for our communities,” Snyder said. “The total number of kits out of the cutting door so far is 1,800. But we bundled another 200 today (April 12) and have cut enough fabric for another 500 kits.”

The name Gratitude Masks came from the gratitude Speaks felt from the outpouring of support, the gratitude put into the masks they make for the heroes who are on the front lines and the gratitude from the recipients of their masks.

Those masks are being delivered to local hospitals, EMS, and local police and fire departments and other frontline workers.

Thrilled with efforts of her production crew and wanting to get the masks out to as many healthcare works as possible, Speaks reached out to Victory Lonnquist, who heads up the STOP THE BUG Nationwide Mask and PPE Drive.

Lonnquist, who is also from Woodinville, has two decades of experience in emergency medicine, emergency management and disaster and Mass Casualty Incident and Rescue.

“I’m in contact with the Washington COVID-19 response team, the Department of Health, the Washington Association of Hospitals, Harbor View Infectious Disease Control, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Enterprise, the Military and many frontline doctors and nurses,” Lonnquist said. “We also have close contacts with the business and the tech industry …Google, Apple, Amazon, Kavu and the Gates Foundation… which helps us to connect quickly to supplement government efforts, centralize volunteer efforts and share them across all hospital networks and quickly mobilize to track and move equipment.”

STOP THE BUG has more than 150,000 individuals at work in its nationwide network, 3,000 of which are do it yourself mask makers like those in Speaks group. Others are involved in 3D printing and design, production and distribution of PAPR (power air purifying respirators), PPE collection and distribution, manufacturing and business, social media and Public Relations and homeless outreach.

“Some of the local frontline workers we have provided PPE to are Eastside Fire and Rescue, which includes the Preston, Duvall, Fall City, and Snoqualmie fire departments," Lonnquist said. “We also delivered them to Woodinville Fire & Rescue, the Shoreline Fire Department, and the Woodinville Whiskey Company that is now making hand sanitizer.”

STOP THE BUG is also providing masks to the Chief Seattle Club, the Millionaire Club, Mary’s Place and Friends of Youth Homeless Shelter. Another partner of STOP THE BUG; Enactus City University made masks for the Seattle Gospel Mission.

To date, Lonnquist said STOP THE BUG has distributed 5,188 masks, 400 face shields, 75 surgical caps, 12 PAPR hoods, seven liters of hand sanitizer, 40 Tyvek infection suits, 60 personal 2-ounce hand sanitizer containers (for jump kits for Eastside Fire and Rescue) 25 shoe covers, 180 N95 masks, 80 surgical masks, and 80 prototype isolation gowns.

Speaks said the relationship with STOP THE BUG is growing by the minute, which led to a request from Lonnquist to have her head up one of its do it yourself mask divisions. The merger of the two groups has also led to a name change: Stop the Bug Gratitude Masks.

“The name change was prompted by me due to the fact that all of our masks are distributed to first responders through STOP THE BUG,” Speaks said. “So, combing the name creates less confusion and represents what Gratitude Masks' goal is and has always been.”

The objective to mass-produce the masks, Speaks said, would not be obtainable without every member of her Gratitude Masks group.

“None of this would be possible without each one of them. I am so thankful for all of their support,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for all who are donating their time and resources, and most of all for their dedication to the mission at hand to provide as many masks as possible, in the shortest amount of time to those in need. This group is not about one person, it is about every single member coming together as a community to help.”

Recent news released from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation indicates the curb of COVID-19 infection appears to be flattening in the State. But Lonnquist suggests groups like Gratitude Masks continue producing PPE products.

“There is still a dire need for it in King County and Washington state,” Lonnquist said. “There are still a lot of volunteer opportunities people can get involved in.”

Individuals wanting to get involved with the efforts of Gratitude Masks can contact Nikki Speaks through its Facebook group or by email at stbgratitudemasks@gmail.com.

If you want to join the STOP THE BUG effort to provide PPE, email Lonnquist at info@stopthebug.org. For more information on Stop the Bug, visit www.stopthebug.org.

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