By Natasha Visnack
Over the past 2 weeks my dining room table has been overtaken with piles of bent sewing pins, bits of loose thread, and a gigantic mint sewing machine. These implements of construction have set up residence, banishing my family and me to eat our sad leftovers at the kitchen counter. Around my buried table disorderly stacks of paisley fabric cling to our banister. Neatly ironed masks sit limply next to our old, cranky iron. The rhythmic clattering of the sewing machine has become just another part of the house’s general din.
When my mom and I first heard about Central Oregon Emergency Mask Makers we were intrigued. The group had started only a couple weeks prior, when sewing enthusiasts across the community had heard of the mask shortages at St. Charles. Despite being one of Oregon’s top hospitals, St. Charles workers have been forced to join the thousands of other healthcare workers nationwide who are at risk of transmitting and even contracting this disease because of the lack of masks and other personal protection equipment. So, under the direction of hospital representatives and passionate community leaders, the Central Oregon Emergency Mask Makers formed. They quickly created a facebook page, allowing them to more easily communicate mask sewing directions and fabric exchanges.
After spending a whole week locked up with our only source of information being a steady stream of grim headlines, my mom and I were both ready to do our part in combating the pandemic. So when bags of patterned fabric were dropped off at our front door by other members of the Central Oregon Emergency Mask Makers Facebook group, we got to work. We sewed, deciphered pattern instructions, and created complicated crafting tools out of cardboard and duct tape. After multiple broken pins, lopsided strings, and backwards pleats, we finally got a hang of mask making. With the help of the Facebook group, we managed to get our finished masks to Saint Charles and into circulation to help protect the people on the frontlines of this crisis.
Across the world people have been reaching out from their homes in order to make a difference in this time of crisis. Some have been fostering animals to help shelters keep more of their people at home. Some, like my mom and me, have been joining online communities to provide services and resources to protect those working around the clock to contain this issue at its source. Organizations like Invisible Hands and volunteer groups like Brooklyn Mutual Aid have been helping young people deliver necessities to at risk citizens. Locally, organizations for the underserved like Bend’s Shepard’s House, have started donating extra supplies to help those most affected by the pandemic. All of these volunteers have found their own unique ways to join the fight, even while most of us are stuck at home.
This volunteering doesn’t just affect the people it directly serves however. The compassion that comes along with volunteer work can also help individuals stuck at home.
“It seems counterintuitive but the simple act of experiencing more compassion can make it easier to hang out and just accept that we’re sticking around in a house,” said Yale professor Dr. Laurie Santos. Doing something with purpose has made many, including myself, feel that a weight has been lifted off our shoulders. The anxiety surrounding grim headlines and the prospect of social isolating has been lessened as our compassion grows with each new task that has the power to affect life outside our quarantine bubbles.
By doing activities that increase compassion, we can move past the terrifying stage of feeling the world’s pain and enter a stage where we can release our stress into actionable service. By acting to better our communities, whether it’s through fostering an animal, joining an online volunteer community, or even by letting an army of sewing supplies take over your dining room table, we can help ourselves survive this pandemic.