The Million Mask Challenge Before the CDC suggested Americans wear cloth masks in public, people were busy sewing masks for first responders. Vanessa Fulton talks about the effort she helped to launch in the D.C. area.

The Million Mask Challenge

The Million Mask Challenge

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Before the CDC suggested Americans wear cloth masks in public, people were busy sewing masks for first responders. Vanessa Fulton talks about the effort she helped to launch in the D.C. area.


Social distancing has left a lot of people at home with more unscheduled time. But Vanessa Fulton of Arlington, Va., who is an attorney and mother of two, has been busier than ever. Her feed dogs have been flying.

VANESSA FULTON: I'm definitely not an expert sewer. There's a lot I don't know, but I can still make a bunch of masks.

SIMON: Vanessa Fulton has made a bunch of masks, and she's helping thousands of people make a bunch more.

FULTON: Yeah, we like to call our volunteers our craftivists.

SIMON: Craftivists.

FULTON: They are doing more than just sewing something. They are, in a way, being an activist here to support our community and our health care providers.

SIMON: Vanessa Fulton is one of the founders of a grassroots effort in the Washington, D.C., region called the Million Mask Challenge.

FULTON: There's experienced sewers and then there's people who have never threaded a needle in their life.

SIMON: The challenge has a website and a growing Facebook group of craftivists uniting, however remotely, from their own dining room tables, family rooms, and basements - young, old, middle-aged men, women, married couples - to sew for those on the front lines of this pandemic. So far, they've made more than 25,000 masks, and the requests from hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes keep coming. This project started only three weeks ago in a local online community group for COVID-19 support.

FULTON: The CDC started telling health care workers that when they ran out of traditional hospital-grade PPE, they could use things like a bandana or a homemade mask. Me and the others thought, well, we can make something that's way better than a bandana. At least it'll fit properly.


FULTON: The first pattern we have is kind of a basic mask that looks similar to a surgical mask, which, to be clear, won't replace traditional personal protective equipment. The second is similar to the basic mask but bigger. It's designed to cover the actual N95 masks. Doctors and nurses and other health care providers were being given one N95 mask to wear for the entire week. If that mask gets soiled or ruined in some other way, they have to throw it away. So one of the big places we could help was to extend the life of the N95 masks.


FULTON: We have over 4,000 members in our Facebook group. I think people are joining our effort for the same reasons that we decided to start it. Another thing that was really important to me is creating a community for people in a very strange time where we've lost a lot of community because we are having to stay in our homes.


FULTON: We do Zoom video chats. Sip and sew is what we call them, to try to get in the evenings, you know, people sewing together. And these are people who have never met each other. And we really need more people to help us in this effort. We have requests for 40,000 masks from 190 different health care providers, and our patterns are accessible for beginners. We want anybody who has a sewing machine sitting at home to feel like they could read our pattern, maybe watch one of my Facebook Live tutorials and start sewing.

SIMON: Vanessa Fulton, talking about the Million Mask Challenge for the D.C. region. She's also been speaking with people in other parts of the country to try to launch efforts to help front-line workers in their communities.


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