As a requirement kicked into effect last week for most workers at Ohio businesses to wear a mask or facial covering while on the job, some Athens County residents are hard at work making masks available for purchase or donation.

Passion Works Studio in Athens has been making masks for several weeks now to donate to local businesses and residents. Executive Director Patty Mitchell said that the nonprofit arts studio has made and distributed about 2,250 masks so far, going to places such as My Sister’s Place in Athens, local nursing homes, Good Works, and most recently, about 100 to the vendors at the Athens Farmers Market.

Local individuals can also donate money ($10 per mask for residents and $12.50 per mask for businesses) and get their own mask from Passion Works’ artists. You simply need to donate by going to this link and then email artist-in-residence Nancy Epling, nancy@passionworks.org, and tell her how many masks you're donated for and what size (kids 3-6, kids 7-12, medium adult and large adult are the sizes). You can then pick up your masks outside Passion Works’ building on East State Street in Athens for no-contact pick-up (or schedule a delivery to anywhere in Ohio).

Mitchell said that Passion Works is accepting donations of cloth and other materials to help continue the mask-making effort, as well. Those donations can be left on her porch at 136 North Congress Street. She noted that Rocky Brands in Nelsonville donated thousands of shoelaces recently to help make the strings for the masks.

Meanwhile, other local residents also are making masks for sale or donation. Heather Harmon, an associate professor of instruction and coordinator of community and public health programs at OU, worked with a wide variety of residents and the Athens City-County Health Department to start up a Facebook page called “Mask Makers of Athens Ohio.”

“We have a lot of people joining daily, all people who either want to help sew masks or cut them, donate materials, whatever they can do,” Harmon said. “We have some people who are selling, some who are just donating them; there’s just a lot of us.”

Harmon, who is making masks herself for donation, said it was a way to marry two of her passions: sewing and public health.

She reminded people why wearing masks or facial covering when you’re out in public, along with other measures such as social distancing and regular washing of hands, is important right now, especially as Ohio begins to reopen several business sectors this month.

“It is about protecting you, of course, but it’s also about protecting those community members that have compromise immune systems, those that aren’t as safe,” she said. “The elderly, the children… I have a friend who has cancer. She has to completely quarantine herself.”

Harmon added that making masks has become a way for some local residents to earn some income ack after losing their jobs due to the pandemic.

In terms of what kinds of facial coverings are required in Ohio for workers, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in the past has said he’s not picky, as long as it’s something that covers your face and prevents moisture droplets from being spread when somebody coughs or sneezes. Most of the masks being made locally do have a pocket available to add an additional filter, as well.

In terms of other people making masks locally, Athens resident Lisa Heinz is making masks available for pick-up or delivery, (delivery orders go through this link; local pick-ups go through this link).

Southeast Ohio-based designer Coral Marie also started a mask-making project several weeks ago, and has already made 1,000 masks, with about 500 of those being donated or sold below cost for first responders (she offers a discount on masks sold on her website for those individuals). Her masks are also made sustainably in her solar-powered, zero-waste studio, with hemp and organic cotton.

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