Mask-maker, make me a mask: How volunteers in Juneau are connecting to local needs

Candy Behrends sews together a chain of mask liners and patterns together from her home in Juneau in this still frame from a video call on April 22, 2020.
Candy Behrends sews together a chain of masks and liners together from her home in Juneau in this still frame from a video call on April 22. Later, she’ll snip them into pairs to sew together.

In Juneau, hundreds of people and local businesses have been donating time and skills to help the community through the pandemic.

A few weeks ago, the city put together a task force to connect volunteers to community needs. As of Wednesday, it’s made nearly 200 referrals and has almost 100 more volunteers on standby.

Volunteers are handling health screenings at the airport, delivering groceries — but the vast majority are sewing.

Since hunkering down, Candy Behrends thinks she’s personally made and donated something like 350 cloth face masks. She gave me a little tour and demo through a video call.

She has quite a craft room.

“I know! It’s fabulous, I just love it,” she said.

There are cubbies mounted on the walls filled with colorful fabrics, a table specifically for cutting, a pile of strips cut from T-shirts that will become elastic bands on masks.

Her sewing machine thunks away, daisy-chaining the outer layers of masks to inner liners, one after another. Later, she’ll snip them into pairs and sew them together into a mask.

Something goes awry during her demo: “Well this probably ain’t such a good sound bite, because my bobbin keeps kuh-floobering,” she said.

Behrends owns Behrends Mechanical Inc. with her husband. The business happens to have a sheet metal shop in back, which she figured out recently could be used to turn inexpensive aluminum ducts into metal strips that would improve cloth masks.

“You know, you always see doctors, they put on those flat masks, and then they squeeze their nose?” she said. “Well, there’s a little piece of aluminum that’s in there. And we determined that that was probably the same weight as rigid dryer duct, aluminum rigid dryer duct.”

So the business has been donating a little bit of shop time and hundreds of these metal strips to the mask-sewing community, too. Threading the metal strips into the top seam helps the masks hold their shape, and it keeps glasses from fogging up.

Candy Behrends shows the seam where metal strips can improve a homemade cloth mask in progress from her home in Juneau in this still frame from a video call on April 22, 2020.
Candy Behrends shows the seam where metal strips can improve a homemade cloth mask in progress from her home in Juneau in this still frame from a video call on April 22. She says it helps the masks hold their shape and keeps glasses from fogging up.

Behrends is one of more than 100 volunteers sewing masks and making other protective gear for Juneau. She said it’s really satisfying putting her hobby to use, tweaking designs and sharing tips. She got into volunteering through her personal network, her Rotary Club and Facebook.

The Facebook group Masks for Juneau People is also distributing face masks through this Google form.

Masks aside, city officials are actively seeking applications from people and organizations with volunteer needs, and volunteers willing to pitch in.

It works like this: Volunteers fill out a form saying what they’re willing to do. Others fill out forms saying what they need help with. There’s some screening, and volunteers from column A get connected with people in column B.

Jorden Nigro normally runs the Zach Gordon Youth Center for the city. When the city went into emergency mode, she started coordinating the task force behind that volunteer effort.

“You know, it’s I think really helpful for people to have something to do during this time,” she said. “I think we’re probably all experiencing that to a certain degree.”

The vast majority of the volunteers are sewing. But there are also dozens of volunteers helping out with deliveries. Others are helping out at the airport with health screenings of incoming passengers.

It’s not all in person. Nigro said several people have also offered counseling and parental support services over the phone.

“We haven’t had a request for that so much yet. But I suspect that we will if this continues to go on,” she said.

She’s playing with an idea to do a Q&A over Facebook Live with those parenting support volunteers.

“How do we all, like, get along in the house when we’re bumping up against each other for weeks and weeks?” she offers in her rendition of a frazzled parent voice.

Nigro said it feels good seeing so many volunteers turn out.

“You know, this is Juneau,” she said. “I would say that the volunteers are kind of coming from everywhere. You know, they’re different ages, they’re different backgrounds, they’re different things they want to volunteer for. But they all have in common that they really care about Juneau, and they want to help out their community, and I think that is pretty awesome.”

If you or your organization needs volunteers or want to volunteer, fill out the form on the task force website at juneau.org.

Lately, Nigro said there’s a need for volunteers who can help out with light housekeeping.

 

Jeremy Hsieh

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I dig into questions about the forces and institutions that shape Juneau, big and small, delightful and outrageous. What stirs you up about how Juneau is built and how the city works?

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