At Monika’s Yarn and Quilt Shop on Main Avenue in Park Rapids over $1,000 in fabric has been given away to help make sure anyone who needs a face mask can make one.

Shop owner Monika Wilkins was born and raised in East Germany.

“We escaped in 1956 and were resettled in West Germany,” she said. “I was 14 and went to work full time. We started out with nothing. I met my husband, a local boy, Gary Hokanson, who was in the Air Force. We got married and I came over here and I’ve been here ever since. I got my citizenship and I am very, very proud to be a citizen of this country because it has done nothing but good things for me, and I want to give back.”

Hokanson passed away in 1986. She was later married to Donald Wilkins, also from Park Rapids, for 27 years. He passed away six years ago.

Wilkins knows firsthand how important masks are to help stop the spread of infection, having worked at CHI St. Joseph’s Health for 12 years as a surgical technician before deciding to work full-time at her shop.

“When this virus came here and people were advised to wear masks I wanted to help,” she said.

Giveaways of up to three yards of quilting fabric per person began two weeks ago. Since the shop was following the order for businesses to be closed, it was announced on their Facebook page that anyone in need of fabric for masks should call the shop, set up a time to come, ring the back doorbell and receive their package.

“This community has been good to me over the years,” Wilkins said. “This is one way we can give back. Some people couldn’t afford fabric, but they wanted to help sew masks for others, so this is a way they could do that. We weren’t open for business. We just gave it away. People from all walks of life who couldn’t do their jobs had time on their hands and some used it to make masks,” she said.

“She’s given away about 80 yards, and we are still giving fabric out to people who can’t afford it and would like to make masks,” said Monika’s daughter, Val Bedsted, who also works in the shop. “That’s what we want people to know. We were given the clear from the governor to open our shop last week to sell fabric for masks. If people aren’t comfortable coming in the shop, we can still meet them with the free material at the back door, if they let us know when they are coming.”

Patterns for masks are included in the package of fabric.

“There was one lady who gave mom some money and said she thinks having the free fabric is wonderful, but knows we are running a business so that was really sweet of her,” Bedsted said.

Bedsted said an article in the New York Times said quilting fabric has been rated as the best for making face masks.

“Because it’s so tightly woven, it keeps 78 percent of particles out,” she said.

“It has a very high thread count and it’s very dense,” Wilkins added. “It takes two pieces, about 14 by 14 inches, to make a mask. You have to do two layers so it’s harder for the virus to penetrate. It might help keep you from getting sick if someone sneezes or coughs near you. I think keeping distance between people is even more important, but still in some of the stores I see people too close to each other. I think our state government advised people not to go up north to their cabins just yet. Our little hospital, as good as it is, is not big enough.”

Bedsted emphasized it is very important to wear the mask correctly. “I saw a woman wearing the mask without it covering her nose, which defeats the whole purpose of it,” she said. “She said it was fogging up her glasses. It isn’t the most comfortable, but it has to cover both the mouth and nose.”

Guidelines for wearing cloth face masks

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cloth face coverings should do the following:

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face;

  • be secured with ties or ear loops;

  • include multiple layers of fabric;

  • allow for breathing without restriction;

  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

The CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.

Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance. More information is available on the CDC website.