BEMIDJI, Minn. -- World War II had “Rosie the Riveter." Now it’s time for “Marty the Mask Maker.”

As the world comes to a near standstill while trying to fend off the coronavirus, a Bemidji woman has created a Facebook group to rally people with sewing talents to make face masks.

Heather Hanson started the group “Marty the Mask Maker” on Sunday, and as of Tuesday morning, about a dozen have joined.

“Rosie the Riveter” was a cultural icon during the second World War, “representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II, many of whom produced munitions and war supplies,” according to Wikipedia.

“In the tradition of Americans fighting together and helping each other through a war,” Hanson shared on the group page. “I have created this group to connect all of the men, women and even kids out there who are running our sewing machines 24/7. May we never run out of thread and may God bless our effort.”

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Hanson, a lifelong Bemidji resident, runs Brooms ‘n’ Blooms, a cleaning business. She also has Hanson’s Homemade Baked Goods and Cannery, and operates Red Poppy Flower and Herb Farm. Because of the coronavirus scare, most of her cleaning jobs are on hold, giving her time to devote to mask making.

“It’s just really important that we do what we can to help each other at this point,” Hanson said.

Kelly Schultz is another Bemidjian who is on a quest to create face masks for those who need them. Schultz, an on-air radio announcer at RP Broadcasting, also has a hat-making business called Angeline Alice Millinery. She’s used her sewing talents to make about 30 masks since Sunday. She has used “super hero” material left over from a Children’s Hospital cancer ward project from a few years back.

Kelly Schultz of Bemidji has made about 30 face masks since last weekend, using "super hero" material. Submitted photo.
Kelly Schultz of Bemidji has made about 30 face masks since last weekend, using "super hero" material. Submitted photo.

“I thought, you know those are the people who are super heroes in all of this, the nurses, doctors, people who work in nursing homes, group homes, day cares,” Schultz said.

Originally, people like Hanson and Schultz were hopeful that local health care workers could use the masks. But they found out early this week that Sanford Health is unable to use them.

“We are immensely touched and thankful for the recent outpouring of support from community members and their willingness to help, but also do not want them to waste their time, talents and money on items that we hope never need to be used by our staff or patients,” Susan Jarvis, President and CEO of Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, said in a statement.

So, it was time for the helpers to find other places for their homemade masks. Schultz discovered that REM North Star, a local agency that works with developmentally disabled people, “would love to have a mask for each of their 200 employees and for some of the people who live in the homes. That’s kind of my plan at this point.”

Hanson also is working to find people who can use her masks.

“I’ll just keep sewing,” she said, “and I’m going to find out who does need them. That’s the way I look at it.”

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