Mask Making Outreach in Moraga

Posted on May 5, 2020. Updated on May 5, 2020

In early March, Barbara Bisel was hunkered down in Moraga, and like everyone, became heartbroken hearing the desperate need of healthcare workers for PPE, especially face masks. A seamstress, Bisel jumped at the opportunity to make and donate masks, completing over 200 masks for nurse friends in California hospitals to distribute.

As that need subsided a bit, Bisel heard that the prison population was a particularly vulnerable group. She asked her rector, the Rev. Dr. Stephen Hassett (St. Stephen's, Orinda) to connect her with the diocesan prison chaplain. Hassett put her in touch with the Rev. Dani Gabriel, who learned that there was a dire need from the Young Women’s Freedom Center, which works with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated folks. Gabriel related that they needed 300 masks for formerly incarcerated people reentering the community and another 100 for the staff that supports them.

When told that they needed 400 masks ASAP, Bisel said, "Yes!" and then immediately put out a call for help on her local Nextdoor messaging app. Within a few days she received responses from 24 volunteers, eager to help. In the last two weeks the group has stitched over 700 masks, enough to not only supply the Freedom Center and staff, but also 80 masks to Bay Area Rescue Mission for their homeless clients and 200 to Monument Crisis Center (MCC) in Concord. At least another 175 masks will again be delivered to MCC this Monday as part of St. Stephen's, Orinda weekly food donation delivery, and the stitchers show no signs of slowing down. (At the time of this publication, the total count on sewn masks it at 1,300!)

Delivering the masks to these organizations has been a profound experience for Bisel. Driving from the suburbs into the Tenderloin and seeing people experiencing homelessness huddled so close together, Bisel's heart sunk, feeling her efforts would be hopeless — how could these little cotton masks stand a chance in a situation like this? Would they even get worn, or just tossed aside? But after entering the facility and seeing the look of relief and excitement on the faces of the men when they saw her masks, she was deeply moved by the realization of our common humanity, our common vulnerability to this virus — and our interconnection. Bisel facilitates the process for the stitchers, providing free fabric and interfacing which she precuts, and elastic. Because her porch is the drop off/pick up point, she hasn't met most these sewing angels in person, which somehow, adds to the magic. As the project grew, Bisel decided to fund the materials by selling masks, with proceeds from the sale of masks going to MCC (as of this morning, the proceeds from the sale of masks has generated enough $ to allow Bisel to make a gift of $1,400 to Monument Crisis Center!). With the popularity (and necessity) of masks, especially pretty ones, Barbara has had an overwhelming number of orders and outright, generous donations. Now all she needs is staff.