When Cami Parks asked for assistance in making face masks, she did not know her simple request would turn into a massive mission that she would lead.
But a day after a huge response to her mid-March Facebook post, Parks launched a Facebook group that has made thousands of free face masks for the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic such as hospitals, urgent care facilities, doctor’s offices and nursing homes in Pocatello.
“At times, it has become overwhelming, especially when I started to realize how big of a need there really was and how urgent of a need there was,” said Parks, a 30-year-old stay-at-home mother of five children, all under 9 years old. “It’s not something like three months from now we need this. It was people who needed them yesterday, last week.”
Experts say face masks can help protect people from the coronavirus, but the item has been in short supply nationally during the outbreak.
Parks initially made a Facebook post on March 20, asking for help in making at least 100 face masks in the next two weeks for a local hospital.
She has since led a Facebook group that has blown away that benchmark, making more than 2,500 masks donated to many local recipients.
Pocatello Mask Makers, led by Parks, is one of several local Facebook groups making free face masks for use within the community. Bannock County COVID19 Face Mask Project is another local group serving the same purpose.
Pocatello Mask Makers has more than 350 members who are asked to use two layers of 100-percent cotton fabric — as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Parks does not have much time for sewing masks anymore, tasked with her leadership role for the project.
“She had not planned on making a Facebook page, but she had to because she was getting requests from not just the hospital, but also a lot of different health care organizations in the county,” said Lenore Moser, a friend of Parks and one of the Facebook group’s administrators. “There was a lot of volunteers that wanted to help. Way more than she thought was going to do it.”
Parks said her favorite part of this is discovering so much good in people.
“I have found every single time that I feel like I just need to quit or that it is too much, one more person has come into the picture and offered to help in that exact way that I need them,” Parks said. “I have people who have donated money, donated fabric and thread to other people who needed it. So I think it’s really neat to see that people truly are good and their desire to help one another is truly making this happen.”
Parks singled out the efforts of many, including other stay-at-home mothers in Pocatello-resident Kathy Harrison and Moser.
They were among 25 people helping make masks at Pocatello’s Mountain View Event Center on April 11, while staying a safe distance from each other. It was a rare get-together as the Facebook group normally makes masks on their own.
“It felt like we were a part of something special. I don’t know if we really were, but that’s how it felt to all of us.” said Moser, a 53-year-old Downey resident who said she was a “chicken with its head cut off” as she frantically went from person to person providing mask instructions and doing other things to help.
A lot of the people at the seven-hour activity were strangers to each other. For Harrison, all of them were, but they are still united because of the cause.
Aside from her appearance at the MEC, Harrison works from her kitchen table during the Pocatello face mask drive, equipped with two sewing machines as well as 40 years of sewing experience to put herself in great position to help the group.
“It’s easy for me,” said Harrison, who made her own wedding dress and some clothes for her five children who are now adults. “I thought, ‘I can do some: I can do it, so I should do it, so I will do some.’ I thought I would do a few. I’ve done a few more than a few.”
Harrison is thankful she is given the luxury of being behind the scenes, while Parks is the front person.
“I love her. I think she’s doing a great job and it’s quite an undertaking to be in charge of something like this,” Harrison said. “She’s making contact with people and finding out the needs. That’s essential. Otherwise, the rest of us could be sewing and it’s not going where it’s needed. So you’ve got to have a fearless leader.”
Harrison said she has been sewing 24/7 throughout the past two weeks, with results to show for it. She said she has made more than 700 masks.
Years ago, Harrison would not have had the stamina to perform this task.
Just going up the stairs was a burden for Harrison, who endured unbearable exhaustion for a decade that forced her into bed rest for weeks-long stretches.
After years of enduring, the root of the problem was finally discovered. The 48-year-old said her symptoms immediately subsided after being diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease and she has been healthy for the past three years.
“You have to be able to take care of yourself before you can be a blessing in anybody else’s life,” Harrison said. “I don’t take it for granted that I can do something for someone else.”
The healed woman now prays for “fast hands” and a “steady mind” for successful sewing.
“It’s not often in life when something big is going on that you can actually do something that is beneficial,” Harrison said. “And when you can, you should.”
So have many others.
“It’s been really neat to learn that you can adapt to anything,” Parks said. “No matter what is thrown at you, you can rise to it, you can adapt to it and make it work to still be helpful and to still serve the people who need it in our community.”