Publishers Note: Inspired by the acts of goodwill around her, our writer, Celina Colby, is also making masks.

By Celina Colby

The Brookline community has come together in countless ways to support each other during the COVID-19 crisis. One of those ways is by putting their sewing machines together and stitching up masks to protect local healthcare workers and citizens. The Boston Area Mask Initiative, the centralized hub for mask making and donations, has distributed over 14,000 masks since launching in early March.

Rachel Bird, a sewer on the Brookline/Brighton border, began making masks well before the initiative launched. Bird was diagnosed with COVID-19 early on, and her healthcare provider recommended she make a cloth mask to protect her roommates once she was well enough to move about the house again. At this time, there were no mask tutorials, but after some hard-hitting Internet research, the experienced needle pointer made several for herself. Fortunately, she experienced a mild case of the virus and wasn’t hospitalized. When requests began surging in for masks, Bird was first in line to donate her skills.

“In addition to working with the Boston Area Mask Initiative, I’ve filled a couple of individual orders. I sent about 50 out through our Buy Nothing group,” says Bird. “I’ve also responded to postings from people who are doing direct outreach to homeless people.” Bird estimates she makes about 100 masks a week, assembly-line style. At this point, she says she’s got a stash that she pulls from when organizations reach out.

After seeing the Boston Globe op-ed “Why I Don’t Feel Safe Wearing a Mask” by Aaron Thomas, Bird began focusing specifically on populations in need. The op-ed explains that as a person of color, Thomas felt covering his face to go into a store wouldn’t be safe. “That had never occurred to me,” says Bird. “I’m a white person, I wear a bandana into a store, and they don’t think I’m going to rob the place. But that really reconfigured the way I was thinking about things.” She put out a message on a local Facebook group and made over 50 masks for her neighbors in similar situations.

Though these are challenging times, Bird says that she’s seen Brookline come together creatively. “It’s been really interesting. There have been a lot of mutual aid networks set up, and I’ve seen people coming together through that,” she says. “It’s been a lot of cobbling together community resources.”

Brookliners who want to get involved in the cause don’t have to be expert seamstresses. The scarcity of materials has been a big problem, and the Boston Area Mask Initiative is accepting donations of all kinds. To get involved, check out the Boston Area Mask Initiative Facebook group.