In their Oregon home, Liz and Frank Wallace have a well-orchestrated production line for making cloth masks. Frank draws around the template and cuts out the fabric. Liz does the sewing. Then Frank pulls out the pins and strings the elastic. “We are a production team,” says Liz. They started making masks for the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital after learning the hospital’s staff needed them to stay healthy while treating animal patients.

We felt there was a need, and not everyone can sew,” says Liz, whose dog Booda, an 11-year-old dachshund, received radiation therapy at WSU to treat a brain tumor in the fall of 2019. “Everyone at the hospital was so considerate and compassionate, and our experience was so positive. These people helped us, and now we help them.”

Keeping the veterinary hospital staff safe

For Rachel Olsson, a postdoctoral researcher in the entomology department at WSU, making masks was a way to help stay calm while writing a doctoral dissertation and to help people in the community. “Making masks has given me a feeling of connection in the community during a time of isolation,” says Rachel. “I can’t give my friends a hug, but I can give them a little extra safety.”

Rachel first learned about the need from Stephen Short, who works in patient services at the WSU veterinary hospital. Stephen had said that his ears had been hurting from wearing masks all day, so Rachel made some masks with ties to make them more comfortable. “I figured he wasn’t the only one who had hurting ears, so I took twenty over to the hospital,” says Rachel.

Frank Wallace uses templates to cut out the fabric for each mask.
Frank Wallace uses templates to cut out the fabric for each mask. He and his wife Liz have donated 37 masks to the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Cheryl Dhein, an emeritus faculty member in the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, wanted to make masks to help fellow veterinarians, and it also helped her feel connected to the college. “It gives me a sense of belonging to make them,” says Cheryl. “If everyone wears a mask it becomes a win-win and protects people in both directions. It is such an easy thing to do to help reduce the spread.”

Having visited Ecuador several times on medical missions, Cheryl had already been sewing diapers for babies in need. “So, I switched from diapers to masks,” she says. “I found several online patterns but with materials such as elastic in short supply, I had to improvise which resulted in learning some new sewing skills in the process.”

People helping people

Liz and Frank, Rachel, and Cheryl, like so many others who are making masks, are making them for many people in their local communities, and Cheryl recently started making them for the Navajo Nation. Together, just the four of them have made hundreds of masks for people including nearly 100 for the WSU veterinary hospital, all by donation.

“You just help out others because you can,” says Liz. “It is a pandemonium, not just a pandemic. It affects everyone so deeply. This is a way to pay it forward.”

And the goodwill is contagious. When Cheryl took her sewing machine in to be fixed, the owner gave her a $10 discount because she was making masks. “When I went back to pick it up, I gave him a couple of masks,” says Cheryl.

Cheryl Dhein has made dozens of masks for the veterinary hospital and people in the community including the Navajo Nation.

“We are extremely grateful to all the wonderful people who have provided us with cloth masks,” says Deb Sellon, hospital director. “With students back in the hospital the demand for masks is even greater.  We have an immediate need for more masks to help accommodate the return of students and an ongoing need for masks to replace the ones that have worn out.”

To date, the hospital has received more than 850 donated masks, but they are still accepting donations to replace masks as they wear out from the sterilization process and for the fourth year veterinary students who have recently returned to the hospital, doubling the number of caregivers in the hospital on any one day.

“I delight in stories of people helping people,” says Cheryl. “It makes you feel that despite the bad times the world is still a good place.”

Donated masks can be placed in the bin at the entrance of the hospital (call 509-335-0711 after they are dropped off) or mailed to Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, 205 Ott Road, Pullman, WA 99164.