In these times of worldwide coronavirus, islanders have stepped up in a big way to make personal protective equipment and get it where it’s needed most. Following news earlier this week that Mt. Vernon choir members who appeared asymptomatic–tested positive for the virus following a March 10 gathering, with two of the members dying later–there is a need to wear masks when out in public.

Since March 20 a Facebook page of 415 members and growing is up and running: Whidbey Personal Protective DIYers. The island-wide group has organized to make masks for healthcare workers and employees engaged with the public. As of last night—April 2—more than 1,243 masks were made. The group provides a forum for members to trade requests, share information and deliver the items.

Laurie Davenport, owner of Casey’s Crafts, repurposed a brassiere to wear as a mask when out and about. She donated vinyl for the Atlantis Steam team to make N95-grade masks. Photo shared by Laurie Davenport

The Atlantis STEAM, a non-profit, internationally winning youth robotics team are making face shields, respirator shields, and parts for ventilators, based on expert advice. While this story was going to include their extraordinary work, look for a separate story on their meteoric trajectory in the next few days. Some of the vinyl used for face shields was donated by Casey’s Crafts, after getting a call from Atlantis STEAM coach Ashley Bystrin, who is grateful to store owner Laurie Davenport for the donation.

“Laurie Davenport has supported us for years and literally opened up her store and gave me a whole roll of vinyl,” Ashley said. We put out a call for elastic. People responded. The island’s two robotic clubs, Atlantis Steam and Whidbey Island Wildcats in Oak Harbor, are making masks, shields and more. We have heard the outbreak’s peak will be between April 7 and 21st. We are part of the solution—the kids are special in that way in that they are all committed to stepping up.”

Donations can be sent to or mailed to P.O. Box 1157 Clinton, WA 98236.

Only weeks ago, Sharon Emerson, a retired nurse, and former owner of Island Home Nursing, saw the contagion wave coming and suggested making masks. The idea spread with others of like mind. If you visit Sharon’s Facebook page, you’ll see this quote: “My mask protects you from me. Your mask protects me from you. Please help me stay safe-wear a mask or even a bandana.” She has been part of the wave to protect us.

Sharon Emerson, a retired nurse, saw a need for making masks in early March. She is now part of a group island-wide making cotton masks. Photo shared by Sharon Emerson

“I’m a medical person and all medical people I know are sucking up all the information they can,” she said. “I might have been one of the early adopters who are strongly and persuasively saying we should all be ahead of the game. I did see pretty quickly the crunch would be in getting elastic. I ordered from several different sources. All my orders went through, including 50 yard rolls of braided elastic. All but one ended being cancelled. I’m getting more. I’m making masks. That is what I spend most of my day doing. I have made a ton of them. There are so many asymptomatic carriers. Up to half don’t have any symptoms. What the DIYers are doing is astonishing and wonderful. This is a horrible situation and it’s wonderful to see the community coming together.”

Artist/teacher Gretchen Lawlor wears a mask her students made. She swims each day to keep her strength and courage up. Photo shared by Gretchen Lawlor

Artist/teacher Gretchen Lawlor has her Woodhaven teen art students sewing masks. She swims daily in the Sound to keep her courage and strength up.

‘It gives me a sense of courage,” Gretchen wrote in emails. “I am trying to do everything I can for people’s safety and courage. The mask thing is working so well. All these wonderful people sewing. We are on the crest of this wave, keeping our spirits up. Weaving together of this community—with its generosity and enthusiasm. I am stunned. Everyone is finding their own way. Other initiatives starting. We are an awesome, awesome community.

“My passion is with kids and teenagers. This is the vision quest for their lives. I would like to have this replicated in other places. We are connected via Zoom. Every one of the kids I’m working with is a major support in their family. This mask thing flows.

“I picked up 65 masks at the ferry dock (March 30) from Pam who brought them across- for our hospital! And took them to remarkable Shawn at the Ken’s Corner drop off place. I made face mask sewing kits for some of my teens and dropped them off, in prep for our first Zoom class on Wednesday.”
The Shawn Gretchen refers to is Shawn Fowler, an administrator/manager for the Whidbey Personal Protective DIYers Facebook group. Shawn coordinates South Island mask dropoffs at Ken’s Korner.
Gretchen’s dad, island poet laureate Peter Lawlor, is safe in Hawaii with his lady love, Roberta, Gretchen reports.
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