Just show up: The story of Face Masks for Maryland

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Founder of Face Masks for Maryland Lucy Kruse wears one of her favorite face masks.

Founder of Face Masks for Maryland Lucy Kruse wears one of her favorite face masks, which was made by team member Vickie McKendrie.

“Just show up.”

That is Lucy Kruse’s mantra. It seems to be more of a clarion call when it comes from her.

When a tornado hit the Bay City on Kent Island three years ago, she posted a call out on social media for people saying she planned on going to help clean the debris left behind. People should just show up, she wrote. That first night, she was joined by two men. Then, there were 30 volunteers every night. Together, they cleared 60 lots of the debris.

Later, she would pull a team together to form a tree planting committee to replace those that were destroyed by the storm. They got trees, equipment and labor donated to replant trees throughout Bay City. They just showed up.

When the pandemic took over our lives in March, Kruse saw that the frontline workers were really scrounging for face masks. “My sewing machine had been tucked away for 20 years. Before the pandemic I said I should get my sewing machine out and start sewing things,” she said.

Packages for Face Masks for Maryland team members sit in an antique Coca Cola cooler on Lucy Kruse porch.

Packages for Face Masks for Maryland team members sit in an antique Coca Cola cooler on Lucy Kruse’s porch.

But as she had already proven in the past, she knew there is power in numbers. And this social woman knew where to find them. So, she posted again. And people just showed up.

Eventually the team became known as Face Masks for Maryland. As of the end of July, the group has created and donated 3,371 masks and 22 gowns. When the costs of the donated materials and labor are factored in, Kruse figures that is equivalent to $16,855 worth of masks, and $990 for the gowns. Hospice of the Chesapeake is the fortunate recipient of 1,083 of those masks.

Over 35 people have been involved in the project. One woman, Ann Foss, has made 800 masks. Jeff Jaros, who owns Advanced Architectural Metals, LLC, on Kent Island, created and donated the aluminum nose strips inserted into the masks. His wife and daughter also got in on the effort, helping to assemble mask-making kits to be distributed to people to sew.

One of the caveats of the phrase “just show up,” is the fact that physical contact was impossible. “I was nervous, it was frightening,” Kruse said. She knew she needed to make the effort contactless. Her front porch became a distribution center – an antique Coca-Cola cooler was the point where people could pick up mask kits and drop off finished masks and materials.

Other groups got involved, too. Doris Key, the director of Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland District 1, led a second team of mask makers. She and her husband Bill Key helped to put together mask-making kits.

“This project gave me a sense of purpose. It helped me focus on what we can do for the community and how people can contribute.”

Gene Deems, Executive Director of Medicine with a Mission, came across one of Kruse’s posts about the mask making efforts. “I was so impressed with their work, so I reached out and asked ‘how can we help?’” Deems said. He reached out to his board of directors who jumped on the idea of helping Face Masks for Maryland. He created an online campaign to raise money and with it, his nonprofit was able to purchase $2,000 worth of materials.” Lucy and I have become friends through their online shopping experience. They would talk on the phone and look at a website together. “She would say I need 80 yards of this and 100 yards of that,” Deems laughed. “I had no idea about sewing or fabric.”

Kruse has always been a can-do person. When her husband became ill, she returned to the work force and held a variety of positions with the Federal Aviation Agency, retiring as a senior adviser to the Vice President of Acquisition. She lost her husband 13 years ago, and for a time would share her experience in a blog called “Sunshine Widows World.”

A face mask made by Face Masks for Maryland.

One of the more than 3,500 masks made by members of Face Masks for Maryland.

“This project gave me a sense of purpose. It helped me focus on what we can do for the community and how people can contribute,” she said. People who couldn’t sew were cutting fabric, shuttling donations, acquiring materials, assembling kits. It is a multi-level community effort that takes a lot of coordinating from Kruse. Another team member, Erin Kelly, helped her with the logistics. When they finally met in person, Kruse was surprised she was a 35-year-old bioengineer. “I’m 66. But we really clicked.” Meeting people of all different ages and backgrounds has been one fun aspect of the mask-making endeavor.

As of the end of July, the group has created and donated 3,371 masks and 22 gowns. Hospice of the Chesapeake is the fortunate recipient of 1,083 of those masks.

Chris Wilson, Director of Advancement and Volunteer Services, said that Face Masks for Maryland stepped up to serve Hospice of the Chesapeake in a time of crisis. “Their generosity and selflessness have helped us to provide face masks for hundreds of essential people – from our frontline healthcare team members to patients and their families,” she said. “We are ever so grateful for Lucy and the Face Masks for Maryland team for joining us in our mission of caring for life.”

The operation is slowing down, but there is still a need, and there are many people who want to continue to contribute.

“There are still some die-hard seamstresses,” Kruse said. “As long as they continue to sew, I’ll be here.”

All they need to do is just show up.

 

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