Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, IBEW 1245 member Kim Camatti learned that one of her neighbors — whose wife works as a nurse at a nearby hospital — had started sewing homemade masks because he was concerned that his wife might not have the proper PPE. Camatti decided that she wanted to help, so she pulled out her sewing machine and started making masks too, along with some other neighbors.
Then, she joined up with a local Facebook group, the Sacramento Mask Makers, and discovered that the demand for homemade masks was far, far greater than she had realized.
“The number of requests coming in every day – it’s just outstanding,” Camatti told the Utility Reporter in a phone interview in April. “Hundreds and hundreds of requests – from hospital workers, social workers that make house visits, people working in correctional facilities and senior living facilities, and other frontline workers – everyone’s asking for masks!”
The requests were coming in much faster than the group could manage, and the queue was growing by the hour. As a seasoned IBEW 1245 organizing steward and Volunteer Organizing Committee leader at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Camatti has a knack for inspiring and motivating others to get involved, so she popped on her organizer hat and devised a plan.
“Pretty much everyone I know from work has weekends free right now,” she said. “So I thought, ‘Let me see if I can get a group of SMUD employees together to make some more masks.’”
Camatti, who works in the SMUD warehouse, rounded up a group of 16 co-workers to join the mask-making endeavor (with some assistance from SMUD’s communications team, who complied with Camatti’s request to put out a call for mask makers in the company bulletin).
The SMUD mask maker team is comprised of women from all sorts of different union and management classifications — including service dispatcher, senior attorney, analyst, materials specialist, cable locator, and more. Together, they’ve created more than 670 masks in their free time over the last two weeks, and they have no intention of slowing down.
Camatti developed a no-contact pick-up and drop-off system on her own porch to collect finished masks as well as donated materials. She works with the Sacramento Mask Maker group administrators to get the finished masks to those who need them. Other IBEW 1245 organizing stewards have gotten involved as well. Nilda Garcia from PG&E has collected and donated fabric and other materials for the effort, and 1245 retiree Ruth Bailey has been sewing both masks and surgical caps, primarily for her family members and their co-workers (her daughter and sister are both working as registered nurses, and her son is a delivery driver) .
“I’ve made around 40 masks so far – I can get about six done a day,” Bailey said in a phone interview. “It’s hard for me to get materials, so I’ve been using fabric that I already had around the house, headbands from the dollar store as elastic, and doubled-up coffee filters. I also put buttons on the caps I make to secure the masks, because the elastic hurts their ears.”
For Camatti, making the masks is more than just a charitable endeavor – it’s a unique and resourceful way to manage stress and keep a level head during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have a brand new six-week-old grandson that I haven’t been able to meet and hold,” she said, her voice filled with emotion. “Doing this [mask-making project] for other people is actually helping me personally … it’s what’s keeping me sane right now.”
Camatti is refusing to accept any payment for her masks – but she is accepting donations of fabric and elastic. She also welcomes additional volunteers who wish to assist – and for those who can’t sew, she points out that they can always use extra hands for measuring and cutting the fabric and elastic.
Follow their progress on Facebook by searching for the hashtag #smudmaskmakers. To get involved and/or donate materials, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director
photos courtesy of Kim Camatti