FRAZEE, Minn. -- At the end of March, after getting back from her cut-short trip to Florida, Sherry Blaine made a self-quarantine to-do list as the coronavirus pandemic took off. "Sew something" was on it, she said. A brief look at Facebook gave her the idea on what to make: face masks.

Blaine reached out to Joan Ketter to see if she wanted to make them with her, or if she knew if anybody else wanted to. Both Blaine and Ketter are involved with Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Frazee, southeast of Detroit Lakes. Ketter is very active with the mission and quilting groups there, so she had access to a group of quilters and materials.

"She (Joan) started calling a few people ... In a week or so, we had ladies making masks," Blaine said in a phone interview at the end of April.

They were making the "basic, simple pattern" that they call the "BTN, Better Than Nothing face masks," Blaine said. When they started, it took the five ladies about 15 minutes to make one mask each. In a short period of time, they got quicker at making the masks and grew in numbers. At one point, 17 women were making the "Better Than Nothing" face masks.

"Our mission goal was to provide 1,000 masks to those in need, but we will surpass that goal by a little," Blaine said.

"They usually do missions at other countries and now the mission is at home," Sherry Blaine said in a phone interview. “We are happy to do what we can to help our communities at this time of crisis." (Desiree Bauer / Tribune)
"They usually do missions at other countries and now the mission is at home," Sherry Blaine said in a phone interview. “We are happy to do what we can to help our communities at this time of crisis." (Desiree Bauer / Tribune)

Taking care of 'their own little part of the world'

Most of the women had a personal supply of fabrics and elastic to use for the masks. But, as women started making 40, then 100, then 200, materials started to run out. Ketter turned to the church, using the donated quilting supplies they had there to provide materials with the group.

"Joan started cutting up pillowcases and sheets ... to make up complete kits of 10 masks each for the ladies to sew," Blaine said. They also bought two shipments of elastic.

When the women finish making their masks, they drop them off at Ketter's house where she washes and dries them all in the highest heat and puts them in a plastic bag. She also adds a sheet with the CDC's recommendation and the Bethlehem Lutheran Church name.

"For some larger entities ... we packaged the pattern along with the completed masks in case they needed larger than the average-sized masks," Blaine said.

When the masks are packed and ready to go, she picks them up and distributes them.

"We decided to take care of the Frazee Care Center and Frazee-Vergas school system first," Blaine said. "That snowballed into covering just about every essential entity in Frazee and Vergas."

Almost all of the businesses that Blaine contacted were in need of mask donations. In the last month and a half, she's kept track of all of their donations and where they have gone to.

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"At this time (April 30), we’ve donated around 900 masks to mostly local Frazee entities, plus 140 for the at-risk members of our church," Blaine said. "When we’re done with the ones we have ready to go then we’re going to be done."

After they make their final donations and surpass the 1,000-mask goal, Blaine, Ketter and the rest of the maskmakers will retire their well-used machines and achy fingers from sewing; at least for a while.

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