OHS Re-opening and a Hunt for the Scarce Face Mask

July 7, 2020

By Lisa Noah

When it quickly became clear that sourcing face masks for OHS staff would be a challenge, OHS Chief Operations Officer Lisa Noah developed a plan to ask our dedicated volunteer force to help sew cloth face coverings — and the response was overwhelming. Thanks to 24 volunteers and multiple staff members, OHS now has 336 cloth face coverings to distribute to staff members as some return to work this week ahead of our museum’s re-opening on Saturday, July 11, 2020.

As the Oregon Historical Society’s (OHS) Chief Operations Officer, it never entered my mind that at one point in my career, I would be faced with the challenge of sourcing face coverings for over 70 full and part time staff members. This pandemic has turned everyone’s lives topsy-turvy, both at work and at home. As more staff return to our facilities ahead of our museum’s re-opening on July 11, I have been working with a team at OHS to develop policies to keep our staff and visitors as safe as possible — and having an adequate supply of face masks quickly became a top priority.

About three months ago, our Administrative Assistant, Karen Peinl, and I started calling our usual vendors to see if we could order face coverings in bulk. When we quickly realized that we were hitting dead ends with our phone calls and Internet searches, we determined that we needed a new game plan — find a way to source masks ourselves.  

On April 1, I approached our senior management team with the proposal that we find a way to sew enough masks for staff, and the idea was suggested to reach out to our dedicated volunteers to see if they would be interested in this project. Our Annual Fund and Volunteer Manager, Ally Huffman, jumped into action and emailed our over 200 active volunteers; within one day, 24 volunteers (and 4 staff members) signed up to help! As Ally wrote in a recent blog post, OHS is fortunate to have a dedicated volunteer force, furthering our mission by judging Oregon History Day projects, supporting our finance department, organizing inventory for our museum store, and even sewing padded hangers to keep our collections safe. I should not have been surprised at the immediate and enthusiastic response, and I am grateful to have the support of such passionate volunteers, especially during times like these.

Flyer from the Oregonian, January 12, 1919.
This flyer from the January 12, 1919, issue of the “Oregonian” features an advertisement encouraging community members to wear face coverings to help slow the spread of influenza. While it is over 100 years old, the message could practically be pulled from today’s headlines, especially with the recent statewide order that people must wear face coverings inside indoor public spaces to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Oregon.
Two styles of cloth face coverings sewn by OHS volunteers.
These are examples of the two styles of face coverings our volunteers sewed for OHS staff members.

With the massive shortage of Personal Protective Equipment, patterns for sewing face coverings at home were popping up across the Internet. Not being a sewer myself, I asked OHS CFO and avid sewer, Sheri Neal, to help select the best pattern for our volunteers. Not only did she select the patterns for our volunteers, she also sourced the best fabric for the project, cut the fabric into one-yard sections, and mailed packets to each volunteer sewer.

When we initially contacted our volunteers, we asked how many masks they thought they could sew in one week. Again, I was moved by the gift of time and effort that our volunteers were willing to give to OHS; the majority of our volunteers produced 10 masks in just one week, with several sewing up to 30! One volunteer, Cathey Biggs, found 100 yards of elastic at a quilt shop in Newport, purchased it all, and drove it all the way to Portland to aid in our efforts! Thanks to everyone’s efforts, we now have 336 handmade masks that are being distributed to staff as they return to work.

During this time of stress and uncertainty, it seems that more than ever, communities are coming together to support one another through crisis. I am thankful and lucky to be a part of the OHS community, and for the colleagues, volunteers, members, Board of Trustees, and donors who have all stepped up during this time to allow us to continue to serve our mission, while keeping our staff safe.

Categories: Staff ReflectionsAudience(s): Visitors

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