From Helping Characters to Helping People : The Costume Shop Facemask Drive

Near the end of the season, the Pacific University Theater Department’s costume shop had run into a snag: The annual DanceWorks show had requested only five costumes this year instead of the 15 they usually requested, and those costumes were completed. How could students complete their work study hours when there were no more costumes to create?

At first, students were working on upkeep. “We were organizing the shop and reorganizing the shop,” employee Emma Agger said.

Then the COVID-19 outbreak hit. Classes and shows were canceled, and there was nobody on campus to work at the shop. But it did give Costume Shop Manager Melissa Heller a solution to her problem: Students could make masks in their own home and donate them to hospitals. “Hey, if we can help and make a difference while having hours and staying entertained, why not?” she said.

There was yet another snag in that plan: Some students, such as employee Elizabeth Swetland, were having trouble getting their hands on essential materials like mask fabric and bias tape, said Agger. “I wanted to still have a way to be involved with [making masks],” Swetland said. “The distance is hard, and it makes me freak out, and I want to do as much as I can.”

So she set up a Facebook group, Twitter, and Instagram for the mask drive, and began to plug them on her personal accounts. “I suspect I have been blocked by quite a few people now,” she said.

A cloth pattern and tutorial video are available on the Facebook page for students who are willing to help the Costume Shop’s drive, “Pacific Costume Shop Facemask Drive”. The masks are designed for use by hospital visitors and patients without symptoms of COVID-19 in hospital waiting rooms, as they don’t provide the same level of protection as medical-grade PPE, said Heller. Students in the Forest Grove area can drop off their made masks in the 24-hour study room in the library, where they’ll be connected to local hospitals via partner organization Crafters Against COVID-19 PDX, Heller said. Students outside of the area are encouraged to make donations to their respective local hospitals directly.

But for Swetland, whose father works at a hospital near her family home in Ontario, OR, that wasn’t enough. When she expressed she wasn’t doing enough to help during class with Theater Department Head Ellen Margolis, Margolis reached out and sent Theater Department materials to make masks. Swetland set aside 20 hours of work over the weekend to make a donation of her own, she said. “I’m one step away from being at 40 masks. I put off all of my schoolwork to get all of this done,” she said. “If, and most likely when, it starts to hit home, I’ll have already done some preparation.”

The Costume Shop is currently working on creating mask kits to give to interested students. Agger used her time to petition Undergraduate Student Senate for funding and succeeded, she said. Clubs on campus no longer needed the money, according to Agger, making it easy to allocate. Then all they needed to do was wait out the bias tape shortage, she said. Interested students can fill out a poll on the Facemask Drive Facebook page.

Involved students say the process is satisfying. “Holding that first completed mask and knowing there was something I could do, even on a small scale to help, felt very empowering,” Swetland said. Other members of the drive echoed her feelings. Before working on the drive, Heller was “worrying and waiting around, like, ‘what’s going to happen next?’,” she said. Now, “We’re making stuff for people who need help rather than made-up people.” Needless to say, the costume shop’s snags have been solved.


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