Island mask makers on call

Corona Stompers and 3D printer owners return to their day jobs, but are standing at the ready.

The Corona Stompers handed out free handmade cloth face masks throughout the summer, and collected donated N95 masks for frontline workers. Now they are standing by if the need arises. — Lexi Pline

With a relative plentitude of masks available for frontline workers and members of the public, folks who dedicated much of their time to making and distributing protective gear and medical equipment at the outset of the pandemic have returned to their day jobs.

Amy Upton, lead organizer for the Corona Stompers — a grassroots group on-Island that led the charge in crafting and collecting masks to distribute to frontline workers and citizens — said she and a number of seamstresses are standing by if more equipment is needed.

After the void of personal protective equipment (PPE) was mostly filled on-Island, Upton returned to her job as a professional decorative painter, but said she still has masks on-hand, and seamstresses at the ready, should the need arise.

“Lots of students who are going back to school wanted our MV logo masks, and we are sending out logo masks to kids in college to hand out to all their friends,” Upton said. “The 1970 Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) class even called and asked for some MV masks for their high school reunion. They said they saw the masks we did for 2020 graduates, and wanted some of those.”

She added that nursing homes and senior centers continue to request mask orders that the Corona Stompers are happy to fill. “One of our seamstresses is working on a big bag of masks for the Red Stocking Fund this year,” Upton said.

According to Upton, she has around 1,000 masks left to distribute to folks as needed. The Corona Stompers also gave some of the MV logo masks to the folks at TestMV, and made cloth masks for kids “so they could have their own special masks.”

“We can order custom masks for a price, and what we have on supply we are making sure to give to people in need,” Upton said. “We recently took a box of family mask kits over to the West Tisbury School, and handed out around 800 masks. You can get a mask anywhere now — I think the mask making really caught up with itself, which is a great thing.”

Upton said that although she is happy there is no shortage of PPE, it was fulfilling for her to make a difference in the community and be a part of such a major local initiative.

“The fact is we were doing this on day one, and the need has diminished. There were no masks to be had, and it was really fulfilling for me and the women I was working with to provide such an important resource,” Upton said. “I have never seen so much gratitude for something so simple as a homemade cloth mask.”

She said being able to hand a stranger a mask kit and see the thankfulness in their expression is what fueled the initiative for her, and kept her “emotionally OK” through the pandemic. “Being of service to others is the best way to get through hard times. Now we continue to spread the message,” Upton said.

She highlighted the “amazing job” the Island community has done in stemming the spread of the virus, but said the Corona Stompers will be around if anyone needs a mask. “I am happy to facilitate anything people need, because we really have our ground game down to a science,” Upton said.

And since the demand for homemade face shields has diminished as well, and school is back in session, MVRHS science teacher Louis Hall said he is focusing on teaching, whereas during the summer he was churning out face shields like nobody’s business. “It’s really nice to feel like the equipment we made was utilized as much as possible,” Hall said. 

When teachers came back to school in September for 10 days of professional development, Hall said he and MVRHS nurse Linda Leonard took all the face shields that were left over and put them into bags, so all the teachers at the high school received a face shield.

“They went out to all the high school teachers, and I assume they went out to teachers from other Island schools as well,” Hall said.

Hall said he is currently “buried” in coursework, remote lesson plans, and other necessary tasks involved with teaching during a global pandemic. But he said the need for face shields has diminished as availability has grown. In the next few weeks, as more people populate Island schools, Hall said, the need for face shields could grow, but that depends on how students and staff are phased back into in-person education.

Hall said the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has done a great job of restructuring its protocols and infrastructure to meet the needs of the Island community. “I think with the hospital, they have made so many changes with the way they are structured, the infrastructure is there so they have things much more controlled. It is interesting to see the evolution of this response,” Hall said. He added that if community groups have a sudden need for equipment, he and his 3D printer will be at the ready.