As supplies fall short of demand, volunteers step up

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As supplies fall short of demand, volunteers step up


Left: Women volunteer community members in Gangdong District, eastern Seoul, sew masks that will be distributed to welfare and day care centers. Right: Masks made by members of a volunteer group in Jincheon, North Chungcheong. [JINCHEON COUNTY, NEWS1]

As Korea’s shortage of protective face masks persists, volunteers in one of the areas hardest-hit by the coronavirus epidemic are resorting to making their own.

A volunteer group in Jincheon County, North Chungcheong, is making free masks for the underprivileged, officials at the Jincheon Volunteer Center said Wednesday.

From Monday, five homemakers and staff members were busy producing cotton masks with a KF94-certified filter attached, which can be used multiple times by changing the filter. Ten volunteers had initially signed up for the project, but half had left due to concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus.

The center plans to distribute one mask and 10 filters for each vulnerable resident.

“It was a pity that the elders were reusing the masks for days,” said Lee Eun-mi, a team leader at the volunteer center. “We came up with the idea from the recent findings of the Seoul Research Institute of Public Health and Environment that said cotton masks with static filters are effective in blocking the virus.”

She added, “As we have volunteer workers who are part of a fashion club in Jincheon’s community center, we began to make handmade cotton masks.”

The process starts with a pattern drawn on the cotton fabric for cutting and sewing. A hole to put a filter in the middle of the mask is added, and then rubber bands are attached. Finally, volunteers iron the finished product to complete the process.

From purchasing the fabric to shaping, stitching and attaching filters by hand, the process is a tedious one. Starting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, the volunteer group made about 80 masks in seven hours. They will first deliver 200 masks to elders living alone and disadvantaged people as soon as they are made.

“I used to make and wear cotton masks myself and thought I should donate my talent after learning that cotton masks with filters can prevent viral infections,” Jeon In-ok, a 60-year-old member of a fashion club, said. “I hope the people who receive our masks stay healthy without getting the new coronavirus.”

Others helped the group to acquire the materials in bulk. When volunteers shared the idea of distributing handmade masks for free, a filter fabric seller gave 300,000 won ($253) worth of filter fabric to them for free - 10 sheets measuring 10 meters (32.8 feet) by 20 centimeters (7.9 inches). The supply was sufficient for hundreds of filters, the group said.

“Not only masks, but also materials to make masks, are in short supply these days,” an official at the volunteer center said. “But as we got the filters for free, I think we will be able to make more masks.”

Meanwhile, Saemaul Women’s Association in Gangdong District, eastern Seoul, made 500 cloth masks last month that can be used by exchanging filters. These handmade masks were capable of blocking an average of 80 to 95 percent of particles, according to the dust collection efficiency test conducted by the Seoul Research Institute of Public Health and Environment.

Intending to make 3,000 masks by the end of this month, Saemaul Women’s Association is currently working with five volunteers who have sewing skills. Along with the masks made last month, newly-made masks will be delivered to welfare facilities and day care centers in Gandong District at the end of the month.

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