Masked Superheroes to the rescue

Mike Esselman sews homemade cloth surgical masks at home following instruction by his wife Maggie Esselman. The couple are making masks, along with many community volunteers, to donate to Memorial Hospital of Converse County.

In a roundabout way, Maggie Esselman needed special dispensation from her pastor to begin the mask campaign that’s taking over Douglas right now.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it ultra-apparent that medical supplies, from gloves to surgical masks to gowns and more, are being depleted at record paces nationwide.

Maggie, a seamstress and quilter, had given up Facebook for lent, she said. When she decided she wanted to sew much-needed fabric surgical-style masks for Memorial Hospital of Converse County, she needed a way to get the word out. Being at home and isolated, she would’ve normally turned to social media to spread the word.

Still, Maggie and husband Mike Esselman wanted to do something to help MHCC with its shortage of masks. After hearing of other communities making handmade masks from scratch, they decided it was something they could do, too.

She found a pattern, printed it out and started cutting fabric out and sewing them up.

She also taught Mike how to sew in an evening, and between the two of them they made 24 masks just on Saturday night.

Maggie’s friend, Mary Falkenburg, is also involved in the town-wide project and is also doing a mask-making-drive in Montana. In addition to masks, Dr. Twyla Thalken found a pattern for hospital gowns, something else MHCC needs. Friends Aleta Ducat and Shellie Christensen are helping Mike and Maggie with the project, too.

“It’s been amazing! Mike wanted to help, so I showed him what to do. The grandkids are working on masks too, sewing projects at home during the school closures. It’s just wonderful.”

The first batch of masks were hand-delivered to the hospital by Mike Sunday morning, who reported the nurses at MHCC were extremely excited as they picked out the ones they liked and tried them on.

“We love our community. There’s so little we can do, but we can do this. Otherwise, our hands are tied. Friends are offering to sew at home, we’re hoping this will really take off,” she said enthusiastically.

Maggie and Mike hope that’s what will happen, that this project will take off like wildfire and everyone will come on board to make the masks. Maggie said she has heaps of colorful, fun fabric which she’ll cut out and put into Ziploc bags, then leave out on their front porch.

With folks being cautious about the spread of the novel coronavirus, no contact is a good idea.

“We can make this happen. We can do this safely. We can do it with no contact. We’re getting it out there to anyone who wants to do it. I’ve got the fabric, we need the manpower! If we can get people to help, we can crank these out. Once we meet the needs at MHCC then we can meet the needs of others,” she explained.

MHCC Chief Operations Officer Karl Hertz said the folks at the hospital are thankful for the volunteers who are making masks for them and extremely grateful for everything they’ve received.

“We have very few masks in the hospital. The nationwide strategic stockpile the government has recently released eight pallets to state of Wyoming – eight for the entire state. It’s too little.

“We’re taking whatever anyone wants to make for us in the way of masks and will use them appropriately. The homemade masks folks are making for us will go over the N95 masks, then the homemade ones can be used one time and laundered again and used again. As of now our gowns, masks and eye protection supplies are what we are in most need of. We’ve contacted the concrete plant, Weed & Pest – this is really a community-wide effort which we’re so thankful for,” Hertz said.

Finished masks can be delivered to MHCC’s front desk Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Resources: This video link demonstrates how to make the masks: and this link is an easy mask pattern:

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