San Rafael, CA – Like so many Marin County residents, Louise Dockstader was sheltering in place and wondering how she could help others from afar during the COVID-19 pandemic . As the owner of an arts and crafts store in Mill Valley, she had a great idea when she heard an appeal from an influential Mill Valley native – Governor Gavin Newsom – about the need for homemade masks.
Dockstader thought about the thousands of yards of fabric she had at her shuttered store and in storage. Then she looked at the 1904 Singer sewing machine she keeps at her home and decided to start a movement.
The result is a passionate and crafty group of a few dozen volunteers called the Masketeers. From their busy outposts throughout the county, they are making masks as fast as they can for the County of Marin to alleviate a shortage of mass-produced, hospital-grade face covers. Dockstader delivered more than 400 masks on April 13 to the Marin County Sheriff’s Office in Terra Linda.
“It makes me feel like I’m doing something productive, and everybody who is helping us says the same thing,” said Dockstader, who lived in Mill Valley for about 20 years but now calls Bolinas home. “Even if they’re making only four masks a day, it saves them from feeling helpless. There is definitely a real need here, so we’ll do this as long as there is a need.”
Dockstader normally runs an arts and crafts boutique called Once Around, located inside the Mill Valley Lumber Yard on Miller Avenue. Both businesses are closed during the sheltering order, but Dockstader has posted mask patterns on her website and recruited new members of the Masketeers.
“We’re using 100% tight-weave cotton, the exact type that medical people said was best to use,” she said. “The Governor said there were front-line public health workers who couldn’t get masks, and that made me think about all this fabric and equipment I had access to. So I put out a message about it and hoped somebody would see it.”
Dockstader had seen desperate online pleas from health care workers, and she responded with comments. On a separate thread, Lee Budish of Mill Valley was drawn in, compelled to help. Dockstader and Budish ended up chatting online and making a connection. Budish, a whiz on her 1989 Singer, is the daughter of Italian immigrants, and her mother was a sewing machine factory worker in the New York City garment district.
Sensing the urgent call to action, Budish made a post on the Nextdoor social media platform that triggered momentum on the recruiting front. The upstart “seam team” was up and running, sharing supplies, and ordering elastic for head straps (“It’s the new toilet paper,” Budish said). The next task was to figure out where the masks should go once made.
Budish contacted Angela Nicholson, an Assistant County Administrator and the Director of the County’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during the COVID-19 emergency. Procurement of essential supplies is a key role for the EOC, and the County drew up a contract with the Masketeers to cover their costs in production. The first few samples were delivered to Marin County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
Dockstader coordinated the collection and laundering of masks from about 30 volunteers before the first delivery was made April 13. Masks were going to Sheriff’s Office bailiffs, Fire Department personnel, and inmates at the Marin County Jail.
“The effort by the Masketeers is inspiring,” Nicholson said. “These local residents are contributing to the health of our whole community by volunteering their time to make face covers for people who desperately need them in our community. Those include our inmates at the jail so we avoid a catastrophic outbreak in that communal living setting.”
Like Budish, Dockstader’s skill set is partly inherited. A native of England, she is the daughter of a fashion designer. “My mom taught me all the bad habits, which is how you make everything very quickly, and all the good habits, like how to get the most out of a piece of fabric,” she said. “I picked up all the tricks of the trade.”
Although she has a modern electric sewing machine at her shop, Dockstader has been working daily with her 116-year-old hand-crank model. “The needles you buy today for the modern electric machines are the same exact needles I use for the 1904,” she said. “Tell that to the people who invented the VHS.”
Dockstader credits Budish for “rallying the troops.” Budish, a Mill Valley resident since 1989, normally serves as office administrator for Budish Insurance Services. Her multitasking talents are coming in handy because more rallying is needed. Mask requests are streaming in from hospitals, the local food bank, senior care facilities, in-home care workers, and even Native American seniors in Arizona who are seeing an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases. Budish is in contact now with previously existing local sewing and quilting groups to help meet the needs.
“I have one hand on my phone and the other on the machine,” Budish said. “I’ve stabbed myself twice in two days, and I have never done that before.”
Budish has a lot of family in Italy and in New York City, two areas that have been devastated by the coronavirus. On the day that 799 New York City residents died of COVID-19, Budish put her stitching contribution into context.
“I know that each mask we make may save a life, and that is not an exaggeration,” she said. “A simple thing such as a mask, which takes 15 minutes to make, may save a life. So, I feel very good but also very sad because we can’t keep up with demand and save everyone.”
Nicholson said the County of Marin will be honored to receive masks from such an impassioned group of sewing enthusiasts.
“As hard as this catastrophe has been for residents of our community, the Masketeers are a perfect example of people stepping up to serve in li fe-changing ways,” Nicholson said.
HERE’S HOW TO HELP:
- Join the Masketeers by emailing Louise Dockstader