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Healdsburg woman’s 900-plus masks help raise $1,600 for Redwood Empire Food Bank

When Denise Feldman sees a need, she wants to fill it. Just as the Healdsburg resident volunteered for the Red Cross doing intake after the 2017 wildfires, she decided she needed to do something for her community during the pandemic.

When stay-at-home orders came down from Sonoma County Public Health, the first thing she did was park herself in front of her sewing machine to make cloth face masks for herself, husband Kevin, daughter Zoe, and son Max. She’s an avid quilter, so she already had fabric, interfacing, thread and elastic in her sewing room.

She tried several patterns and rejected them before finding the one she’s using now, which seems to work well for most people. It includes two layers of cotton quilting fabric, with a nonwoven interfacing sandwiched in between for enhanced filtering. She realized that a number of people were already making masks for health care providers and other essential workers and she knew they couldn’t be bought in town or online by the general public, so the sewing marathon began. Fabric has to be washed and ironed and cut out into 9- by 12-inch pieces before she can begin sewing. Each mask also has a wire nose piece to aid in a tight fit.

Originally, she handed out masks to people in town but then ramped up the sewing and now hands out her address to people in need of a mask or two.

She created her first “free mask” post on social media on April 17, just a month after the orders came down from the county. Her post read, “Need a mask? I’m making masks for people in town that need them. Please let me know if you need one and I’ll put one in the box on my porch for you.” She went on to say that she’d continue to sew masks until she was out of material. The post drew 129 comments.

The response to her offer has been overwhelming. Recently, Feldman hit a big number ― 900-plus masks made for Healdsburg community members. She credits a “really good chair” for the time she’s spent sewing, between four hours and a full day over the last three months.

She began making about 10 masks a day, then 15, and finally 20. No matter how many she made, the box on her porch emptied as quickly as she filled it.

“I have a great life,” said Feldman. ”And it’s always been important to me to give back. Even when we had little money, my time was something I could give.”

“I couldn’t do this without my family,” said Feldman, 64. She credits family members with helping her over the long haul. Her husband has taken over the house and some of the cooking; her son cleans the chicken coop.

Feldman also makes it clear that she isn’t the only mask maker in town, though perhaps the most visible, with her gregarious personality and social media posts.

People asked if she would accept payment and her answer was invariably no, but community members began to drop money in the box. She didn’t want to be paid for providing a service, so her husband suggested they donate the money to the Redwood Empire Food Bank.

Last week, she announced on social media, “We did it again! Way to go Healdsburg!” Donations to the food bank then totaled $1,617.50. Contributions to the food bank continue to roll in, in both small amounts and large. The smallest gift has been $2, the largest a check for $100, but most of the receipts are tied to the number of masks the individual picked up.

“All my volunteer stuff ― Master Gardeners, bee activities (Feldman is a beekeeper), Red Cross ― were all sheltered, so I had time on my hands,” said Feldman. It delights her to spot the masks she made when she’s out at the grocery store. She can tell they are the ones she made by the ear loops, which are actually baby headbands. Healdsburg resident Cecilia Pietropaoli, donated some of the headbands to her, then Feldman went on to source them online. They were readily available when elastic couldn’t be purchased.

Other community members donated fabric. A big donation came from Dave and Sydney Kimball of Windsor. Dave Kimball is the vice president of Beverly Fabrics, which is in the process of shutting down their 32 stores across California, including the one in Santa Rosa that is already shuttered.

The Kimballs originally donated half-yard squares of fabric to Windsor community members to make their own masks, putting the fabric out, and also posting on social media that the fabric was there to be picked up. Then Sydney Kimball was approached by another Healdsburg resident, Laurie Brock, regarding a donation to Feldman. They donated 10 bolts of fabric to the mask-making project. Each bolt once held about 10 yards of fabric.

“I cannot believe how generous a heart Denise has to offer for so long to make masks for the community without asking for anything,” said her friend of six years, Linda Mansell, who went through Master Gardener training with Feldman.

“Denise is a doer, she sees a need and she jumps ― feet first, head first ― into the fray,” Mansell said with a laugh. She noted Feldman was the first to sign up with the Red Cross after the fires, the first to sign up as a “Water Sense” (a Master Gardener’s program) volunteer. She also said Feldman is known for making baby quilts for her extended family, so she had the materials on hand to jump in.

“Hers is the most comfortable mask I’ve ever worn,” said Mansell. She said that Feldman also donated masks to Redwood Empire Food Bank volunteers.

And Feldman keeps sewing. In addition to her daily mask making, she creates bags of materials to give to other mask makers. The hardest thing, she says, are the accolades she’s getting from community members, the best thing is “seeing people wearing one of my masks,” and knowing that one more person is a little safer because of it.

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