For hours a day, Cathy Johnson, a long-time Santa Clarita resident, hears the rhythmic clicking of her sewing machine and that of her mother’s. These simultaneous clicks are only interrupted when she looks over her shoulder to see her mother smiling back at her.
With conditions of the current global pandemic, the twinkle in someone’s eyes is the only notion of a smile as their faces are often hidden by masks; like the ones Johnson and her mother have made for the community.
Johnson’s passion for sewing stems from her membership with an organization called Project Linus. The organization is a place for residents, including her mother, to get together to sew quilts and donate them to hospitals in need. In the last meeting before the “Safer at Home” regulations were enforced, they were shown how to make masks.
“She gave a pattern out to everybody and that’s kinda what gave us the idea,” Johnson said. “So then we came home and started making them.”
She began only making face masks for her friends and family until she stumbled across fellow mask-maker, Rose Ortega, on a Facebook page. After reading that Ortega was getting an overwhelming amount of mask orders, she decided to lend a helping hand.
After exchanging only a few messages, these two soon found their teamwork would be the perfect stitch.
“We have become very best friends and we have never met each other,” Johnson said. “We messaged and we have so much in common like our backgrounds and our sewing history.”
With this new found friendship, Johnson’s mother, Alice Olp, and two friends, Dori Wolfenstein and Susan Banks, joined the team. Johnson decided to call their group the #Masketeers, unknowing that they were other Masketeers across the nation.
This local team has reached about 50 businesses in and out of Santa Clarita and between the five of them, they have produced about 3,400 masks so far, and are still sewing.
They have helped local essential workers, but their kindness doesn’t stop here. They have provided masks for those outside the city such as the Inglewood Fire Department, and Los Angeles County Department of Water and Power. They even shipped their kindness across the country, to members of the New York Police Department.
This team works tirelessly cutting fabric, sizing elastic and sewing the patterns to produce masks to anyone in need of one, free of charge. Their comorody and selflessness is what allows them to seamlessly finish orders with a one or two day turnaround, or often same day pick up.
“It has been very heartwarming to give back to the community. I have lived in Santa Clarita for about 35 years. It had been really awesome to be able to give back to the business that we watched grow and prosper here,” Johnson said.
The Masketeers have kindness sewn into their hearts and are spreading generosity through the community, but they are also providing residents a chance to give back and pay it forward. Many local residents are searching for a way to help during these unique circumstances, but are not sure where to start.
Although they are not charging for the masks, they are encouraging and accepting donations of supplies or food for the local food pantry that residents can drop off when they pick up their masks.
“I was asking for donations for the food pantry because they are in desperate need, people have been very generous that way,” Rose Ortega said. “I have a box and people just drop off what they want out there”.
Ortega takes all of the donations she receives once a week to the local food pantry. The team reports that the volume of donations they receive is amazing, as they see first hand how much power kindness has.
Although this team is creating a meaningful impact on so many of the lives in and out the SCV, they merely see it as an opportunity to use their talent and do something they love to help the community in a time of need.
“I think it is sending a message to pay it forward and be kind. Along the way, I met Rose which was just a cherry on top,” Johnson said.
In a time where staying six feet apart is required, this team chose to find a way to come together and do something great. Through their mask making, they have filtered out the negative and created a lifelong friendship with one another, even though they have not met.
If you would like to place an order with the Masketeers, you can contact them through their posts on the SCV Emergency 411 Facebook page or Santa Clarita Community Page Facebook page. The team works on distributing and making masks based on the order of replies on their Facebook posts.