The COVID-19 pandemic has depleted, not just worldwide but also locally, supplies of essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that help keep health care workers and first responders safe. However, a community of local volunteers and donors are working hard to make a difference.

Enter Lacey MakerSpace, and its partners The Arbutus Folk School and South Salish Mighty Masks.

Together, they’ve gathered hundreds of volunteers who are making supplies in their homes — whether it is sewing masks, 3D printing, or assembling kits — to then be donated locally in Thurston County and beyond.

Joseph Anderson, the director of Lacey MakerSpace — a project of Saint Martin’s University, the City of Lacey, and the Thurston Economic Development Council’s Center for Business and Innovation — said the effort took root in the latter half of March when it started fielding requests from local clinicians for PPE, and simultaneously received offers to help from local makers.

“We realized we were ideally placed to help those on the front lines by focusing the generous volunteer help towards those who needed it most,” Anderson said.

Continued Anderson, “To assure the volunteers were staying safe, we set up a no-contact drop off point at the MakerSpace, where volunteers could pick up supplies and return completed masks and shields. The demand for PPE and supply of volunteers grew rapidly, so we reached out to local groups to partner and share resources. South Salish Mighty Masks and Arbutus Folk School stepped up as leaders coordinating the volunteer effort, and thanks to their partnership, we’ve been able to deliver thousands of masks and shields.”

Since pivoting to become a robust volunteer and supply chain management operation making and distributing protective face masks, Lacey MakerSpace has delivered more than 1,500 clear face shields and more than 1,200 cloth face masks, with another 7,200-plus delivered by South Salish Mighty Masks.

They are in contact with Thurston County Emergency Management (TCEM) and the Thurston Economic Development Council (TEDC) for guidance to determine the organizations in the greatest need. And, so far, they’ve received mask requests from Providence St. Peter’s Hospital, the shelter at Saint Michael’s Parish, the City of Lacey Police Department, the Thurston County Food Bank, Saint Martin’s University Public Safety, and many more.

“The demand we knew in the medical community already exceeded our volunteer response, so we’ve focused on fulfilling that need first. We have been in contact with both TCEM and TEDC to help more broadly once the current needs are met,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the number of volunteers also grows daily. At last count, 190 people have volunteered with MakerSpace, and at least that many are working with South Salish Mighty Masks, which is a Facebook group of nearly 500 strong and more than 100 active volunteers.

“It has been a community effort and the combined work of hundreds of volunteers that we’ve been fortunate enough to partner with. Special thanks to Arbutus Folk School and South Salish Mighty Masks for leading the charge,” Anderson said.

Given the high demand for PPE, Anderson said the need for more volunteers is still strong. Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to visit the Lacey MakerSpace website for details on how to participate or email volunteer@laceymakerspace.org.

Lacey MakerSpace 3D printers in action.