Medical providers in Staples and Alexandria reached out to their communities for help with the COVID-19 crisis in March and the two communities responded in a big way.

“The project got started at Lakewood Health System (LHS) by a task force set up to respond to the growing Covid-19 concerns,” Donna Bestland, a retired health career teacher, said.

One of Donna’s daughters works at LHS and is on the task force.

Volunteers work at Knute Nelson to assemble masks. Contributed photo

“On March 18th she  asked me if I’d be willing to test-make a prototype for a mask from a pattern one of the doctors on the committee suggested,” Donna said. “The mask has a pocket so healthcare workers could insert a micro-filter fabric piece that the hospital was able to get in good quantities.”

Donna agreed to make the prototype with the help of her friend and fellow seamstress Lisa Kajer. They discovered that the pattern dimensions were unworkable and part of the instructions were in a foreign language. So they spent the weekend of March 21st revising the pattern to meet the specifications of LHS.

Monday morning, on March 23, the task force approved Donna and Lisa’s prototype.

“The LHS coordinator asked if we could then put the directions in print, step by step, so anyone who wanted to help with this project could quite easily do that,” Donna said. “We did, and Lisa attached step-by-step pictures as well. They put all of that on Facebook and the community has made nearly five thousand of them.”

At about the same time, 60 miles to the southwest, Kelsi Timm was starting the group Helping Hands Alexandria.

“The group started on March 14,” Kelsi said. “I had plans to go away for the weekend on a creative retreat but the retreat was put on hold because of COVID-19. That afternoon I had read an article about a couple in Texas who started a Facebook Group to help people affected by COVID-19.”

Face masks assembled by volunteers. Contributed photo

The couple happened to be Kelsi’s bosses’ son and daughter-in-law. Kelsi says she was inspired by their actions. The next day she asked her women’s Bible study group if they would support a similar effort if she started it. They were supportive, so Kelsi took the leap and launched the Helping Hands of Alexandria Facebook.

“Within 24 hours the group grew to over 800 members and within a week it was at 2,000 members.”

Kelsi, along with her friend Nattiel Dammer, imagined that Helping Hands would pitch in wherever help was needed. They have done that but, like the Staples Project, protective masks have been their biggest project.

“Over 10,000 masks have been sewn by the Alexandria community,” Kelsi said. “Dr. (Deb) Dittberner reached out to Joni Jacobson on March 20th to ask residents in the area to start to sew masks. She provided a pattern from the CDC for people to follow and Calvary Lutheran Church became the drop off site and also a location where people could pick up materials.”

Since its founding Helping Hands of Alexandria has made masks for dozens of organizations from assisted living facilities,  churches, Douglas County  employees, and school cleaning staff.

They now have a web site where people can volunteer or make requests for help. You’ll find it at helpinghandsalex.com.