An urgent request to the community for surgical masks Friday led to the creation of a now hundreds-strong Facebook group dedicated to constructing them over the weekend.

Grow Wabash County seeks masks

On Friday, and again Monday, Grow Wabash County asked “any of our investors, businesses or individuals that have new, unused dust or N95 masks that they are willing to donate” to bring them to Parkview Wabash Hospital, 10 John Kissinger Drive.

“With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, our local healthcare system is being inundated with calls. While there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wabash County, testing is continuing of potentially affected individuals that are the most at risk. There is a worldwide shortage of this personal protective equipment including N95 masks.” stated the release.

Take any unused masks to the Parkview Wabash Hospital ER and ask to speak with Marilyn in Administration, the release stated.

“Thank you very much for your cooperation and continuing to pull together as a community as we work through these unprecedented times and work to ensure the safety of our healthcare professionals,” the release read. “Please forward this information to any Wabash County business in any industry to spread the word.”

Wabash Strong

Also on Friday, Mayor Scott Long approached Rick and Jennifer VanHoose-Simson, owners of Rick’s Auto, to see if they had any masks.

“I told them that they needed masks desperately, and I checked with several different businesses I knew used them. Jennifer took the action to begin the making of masks at home from that suggestion I assume,” stated Long, in response to a Plain Dealer request Monday.

In response to a Plain Dealer request Saturday, Jennifer stated they didn’t have any dust masks on hand at the time.

“We had already contacted all our suppliers the week before and they were all out,” she stated. “After he left, my husband wanted to go look at our old location on Erie Street where we still have the paint booth to see if possibly we had some in storage we might have overlooked. Again, nothing. So disappointing when you want to help but you can’t.”

Later that same evening, Jennifer’s sister-in-law Shelly VanHoose, a nurse, sent a group text asking who could sew. Jennifer stated she thought was a much better idea.

From there, Jennifer co-founded the Facebook group, Wabash Strong, after a post about the need went viral. Word spread fast. In the first 12 hours, there were over 160 members. The group was up to almost 700 members by Monday afternoon.

“The response was instant,” stated Jennifer. “We had people donating material, sewing machines, posting videos and patterns and doing live feeds. Not just women either. Men were very helpful in sharing our group and offering ideas. Teenagers offering to help. It was absolutely amazing.”

Jennifer stated they were not just making the masks for Parkview any more. Nursing homes, medical facilities and individual physicians are all in need.

“We now have an independently-owned physician out of Fort Wayne asking if someone can make them mask,” she stated.

Group co-administrator, Cindy Miller Solloway, stated they have a pattern from Deaconess Health System they can use for the long-term care facilities. She stated Parkview would soon receive kits to construct the masks, as well.

In response to a Plain Dealer request Sunday, Tami Brigle, Parkview Health public relations manager, responded to the creation of Wabash Strong.

“We are aware of several social media posts involving PPE (personal protective equipment). Parkview currently has an adequate stock of PPE, but we are working on several plans to create additional, back-up supplies. Our teams are finalizing logistics right now,” stated Brigle.

Multiple Plain Dealer requests for additional information from Brigle were not immediately returned as of press time.

Jennifer stated they would take any materials or volunteers the group can get.

“We have to try to contain this virus as much as we can. We all have someone, whether it is a mother, father, child, sibling or friend working on the front lines risking their lives and their family’s lives to keep our families safe,” she stated. “We can’t and we won’t leave them hanging out to dry. We have the most giving and loving people in our community and we know we can defeat if we stick together. We are Wabash Strong.”

Rob Burgess, Wabash Plain Dealer editor, may be reached by email at rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com.