WENDELL — Kathy Becker spent three weeks in Vietnam last month and marveled at what she saw.
Everyone wore medical masks to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and did so out of a sense of community.
“People wear masks as patriotism, to protect each other,” Becker said of the people in the southeast Asian country, where the infection rate is rather low. “The mask you’re wearing protects the other guy, and his mask protects you.”
On her trip home, she landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and couldn’t believe no one was wearing masks. So Becker, a semiretired registered nurse, decided to make some. She joined the Facebook group DIY Masks of Western Mass and has pumped out roughly 75 masks, having received donated fabric and material. Becker hangs them on clotheslines at her home, at 136 Locke Hill Road in Wendell, for passersby to take for free.
Becker said Americans can learn much from Asian countries about how to slow the spread of a virus. People in that part of the world are seasoned veterans when it comes to combating respiratory illnesses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and avian influenza.
Of masks, she said, “You can buy them from old ladies on the street.”
Becker said she bakes her masks in the oven at 162 degrees for 30 minutes to sterilize them.
She isn’t the only Wendell resident who has gotten into the mask-making game.
Patti Scutari, who has owned Wendell Country Store for 27 years, has been “tag-teaming” with 91-year-old Lena O’Dou, a lifelong seamstress, to assemble and distribute masks to anyone who wants them.
“That’s what we’ve been doing for the people of Wendell and the surrounding towns,” Scutari said.
She mentioned they started their endeavor the middle of last week and planned to have made about 115 by the end of the day Tuesday.
“My goal is to have everybody in Wendell wearing masks whenever they’re in public,” Scutari said.
Early Tuesday afternoon, Scutari spoke with resident Sarah Vular, who is attempting to coordinate mask producers with those who need masks. However, she said, there is a massive shortage of producers and volunteers cannot keep up with the demand.
“Their fingers are kind of nubs at this point,” she said.
She encourages anyone willing to volunteer to make masks to email her at [email protected] She also suggests people try to set up networks in their own towns and cities.
Scutari said she leaves a mask at the country store at 57 Lockes Village Road whenever someone emails her to request one. Vular said she can also deliver them if pickup is impossible.
Scutari said COVID-19 has changed virtually everything about her business. She said cashiers are wearing masks and gloves, and employees are delivering goods to customers’ vehicles to avoid person-to-person contact. She also said prepaid accounts are being set up for people.
She mentioned one of her employees — who is at a high risk of contracting the virus — has quit and another is taking two weeks off.
Reach Domenic Poli at: [email protected] or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.