Masks4Hawaii started as a small Facebook group. Wendy Iwasaki, PharmD, BCACP, BCGP, senior clinical pharmacist at HMSA and the group’s leader, realized that using a fabric mask could help conserve proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
“I was hearing from nurse friends, people in the community, physicians I was talking to in the community, that they were reusing their masks,” says Iwasaki. “Some nurses were told that they had to use the same mask for the whole week. So, then we thought that there's a need out there.”
Gina Nagata wearing a Masks4Hawaii bonnet with her PPE
She started following mask-making pages, sharing stories from around the country. Not long after, she started Masks4Hawaii, which is a collaboration of several community members including current HMSA employees, Wendy Iwasaki and Alyson Kusatsu, and former HMSA employee, Amy Jampel.
Iwasaki has always been crafty and she soon taught her 10-year-old daughter how to make her own mask. She decided to organize and start her own group, Masks4Hawaii. The group, whose mission is to connect Hawaii’s health care professionals and essential workers with fabric masks, has grown to more than 1,000 members. The rapid growth has been a bit overwhelming for Iwasaki, but she’s heartened to see so many in the community eager to help.
Nicole Vermillion makes fabric masks
Mostly, Iwasaki says Masks4Hawaii group members share mask-making ideas and tips and cheer each other on. It’s a positive, transparent space for community members who want to give back to those on the front lines of the pandemic. “It's created a new culture,” says Iwasaki. “I think it's inspiring to people. They just want to start helping. They just see people asking for a need and people willing to respond to that need.”
The group accepts requests of up to 25 masks, which can be submitted through their Facebook page. Iwasaki spends most of her time after work matching requests to a mask-maker in their area and coordinating supplies and donations. Within its first two weeks, Masks4Hawaii distributed 1,000 masks across the state. Since then, they’ve provided over three thousand more.
Providers at Cardiology Associates, Inc. in fabric masks from Masks4Hawaii
Now, Iwasaki is working on a new need, comfort hooks. Caregivers are working long hours in their fabric masks and many have said the elastic straps hurt their ears. Iwasaki set to solving that problem and in just her first week, she was able to donate over 2,500 hooks.
Masks4Hawaii is one of many groups trying to help Hawaii’s health care and essential workers. But Iwasaki has seen that as the project has grown, the benefits reached beyond hospital walls. “It helps people at home to feel that they have a purpose,” she says. “When they feel like this, when this whole situation feels just so uncontrollable, they're doing something to help and it really is helping.”
Health care providers at The Queen's Medical Center with comfort hooks from Masks4Hawaii