SEQUIM — For 11 months, Danette Bemis and friends have been extending some peace of mind to Sequim residents one branch at a time.
Since last April, Bemis, Kathy Tiedeman and Krista Rambow have made more than 4,500 fabric facial masks, available for free. There’s no catch — or snag, as it were — to take masks of various shapes and sizes that hang from Bemis’ front yard tree in North Sunland at 280 Blakely Blvd.
“When we started, I never thought we’d be doing so many,” Bemis said.
When concerns and regulations for the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit Sequim, Gwyen Boger (Bemis’ mother) asked if her daughter could make her a mask.
“When we started, you couldn’t find them,” Bemis said. “There was definitely a need in the community, with a lot of vulnerable people worried about finding them.”
That led Bemis and other community individuals and groups to start their own efforts, such as the Sequim Face Mask Challenge on Facebook.
On April 5 of last year, Bemis posted online at Nextdoor about her masks with the thought, “If no one comes, I’ll donate them,” she said.
Word spread and “people from all over Sequim came,” Bemis said.
“The first month it was crazy; people were lining up and waiting across the street,” she said.
Tiedeman, whom Bemis has known for years through golfing with the Lady Niners at Sunland, was recruited to help. Rambow has made several drops for the tree with more than 200 masks, by Bemis’ count.
Bemis and Tiedeman used mask patterns from the internet. The pair said people seem to prefer different kinds and sizes.
Bemis makes masks with ties, Tiedeman with elastic and Rambow with elastic and nose wire in both men’s and women’s sizes.
As demand grew, Bemis sewed about 12 hours daily while Tiedeman set a goal to finish 10 to 12 masks each day.
As cloth masks became more commonplace with mask mandates increasing, demand didn’t slow until it got colder, around Christmas time, the two friends said.
Tiedeman, who uses her own materials for Christmas bazaars, for which she makes and sells kitchen towels and cross-stitched ornaments, opted in 2020 to send out about 30 masks instead of Christmas cards last year, too.
“It’s been great for me because it’s given me something to do,” Bemis said of the ongoing project.
Community support keeps it going too, the friends said. At first, they were using their own fabric and didn’t ask for donations, but neighbors and community members began to ask how they could help and began leaving fabric and clipping money to the tree. That led to a donation jar, Bemis said.
The friends estimate it’s cost thousands to purchase fabric and elastic with most of that from the community.
“Big thank you to people who donated,” Bemis said.
“We wouldn’t be able to continue,” Tiedeman said.
Of the 4,500-plus masks, Tiedeman estimates she’s left more than 1,100 outside the Sunland Pro Shop as well.
Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry speaks highly of efforts like these.
“Consistently wearing masks when we are around others is one of the best things we can do to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” she said in an interview.
“I am ever-impressed by the generosity and dedication of those in our community who have worked tirelessly to make this important safety measure available to all.”
Through the past year, it’s meant a lot to the friends, they said, to receive countless thank-yous and thank-you cards.
The friends have seen their masks around Sequim. Tiedeman said she’s seen quite a few at Walmart, where she goes for groceries once every two weeks, while Bemis said she saw one woman with one of her masks at Office Depot.
“She told me she loves her kitty mask,” Bemis said.
To find the mask tree, drive (from downtown Sequim) north on Sequim-Dungeness Way, turn right on Woodcock Road and take the first right onto Blakely Boulevard.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].