Nikki Speaks works on a handful of new masks at her home on April 10 in Woodinville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Nikki Speaks works on a handful of new masks at her home on April 10 in Woodinville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Purchase Photo

Mask-makers sew lifeline for Lynnwood nurses and 1,000s more

Can’t sew? No problem. Neither could Nikki Speaks, founder of a group that has made 3,000 masks.

LYNNWOOD — Susie Snyder is a self-proclaimed “fabric freak.”

She began her career working for a crew that made sample garments for designers and then spent years overseeing quality control at garment factories in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Now, during her retirement, she begins every morning at her kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee, a sharp pair of scissors and a stack of fabric — from bed sheets to elaborate prints — destined to become masks for those who need them the most during the coronavirus pandemic.

Snyder is a member of a Facebook group that started with a Woodinville woman, Nichole “Nikki” Speaks, who doesn’t know how to sew. Speaks founded Gratitude Masks, a group that partnered with Stop The Bug, a larger Seattle-based organization that aims to help protective gear drives across the country communicate, organize and act.

Stop the Bug Gratitude Masks is one of many such online networks of mask-makers that have sprouted across the country to assist hospitals, paramedics and others on the front lines of COVID-19 relief efforts, who are grappling with widespread shortages of protective equipment.

“I thought, ‘I could make a difference. I’ve got all the time in the world,’” Snyder said.

Speaks, an administrator at a Lynnwood detoxification unit run by Evergreen Recovery Centers, started the group in mid-March because she was worried about the detox’s 30 or so nurses going without protective equipment.

The detox is a place where those who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction can safely sober up and learn more about treatment options. It’s a facility that, compared to nursing homes and hospitals, is fairly low on the state Department of Health’s list of priorities for personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Speaks said she was especially concerned because patients in withdrawal and people with COVID-19 experience some of the same symptoms, making it hard to discern potential coronavirus cases.

She resorted to a Woodinville community Facebook page.

Nikki Speaks folds emergency response themed fabric for a mask on April 10 in Woodinville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Nikki Speaks folds emergency response themed fabric for a mask on April 10 in Woodinville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“Within literally 5 minutes, I probably had 30 people that wanted to help,” said Speaks during a recent phone interview from the parking lot of a Jo-Ann Fabric store. “So that’s how the page started — I needed a way to be able to communicate with everybody altogether at one time.”

“It has just blown up from there,” she said.

The group now has more than 260 members and has produced some 3,000 masks.

Some participants, like Snyder, cut fabric. Others sew or make monetary donations.

The fruits of their labor have gone not only to health care workers but to police and fire departments. Snyder has personally made donations to assisted living facilities, other detox centers and a methadone clinic, too.

“It’s just really been quite amazing, honestly, the way that people in the community are coming together and wanting to help and donate money,” Speaks said. “From my perspective, anybody and everybody can help in some form or fashion.”

Two bins, one for drop off of finished masks, another for picking up mask kits, sit near the entrance of Nikki Speaks’ home on April 10 in Woodinville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Two bins, one for drop off of finished masks, another for picking up mask kits, sit near the entrance of Nikki Speaks’ home on April 10 in Woodinville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Stop the Bug has delivered about 10,000 home-sewn masks, 400 face shields, isolation gowns and other gear to hospitals, first responders and non-profit organizations across the Pacific Northwest.

“A lot of people are seeing the curve flattening, and they think that there’s not a lot of need. But we still have officers and medics out there without PPE,” said Stop the Bug founder Victory Lonnquist, who works for Snoqualmie Pass Fire & Rescue and lives in Woodinville.

Lonnquist started Stop the Bug after her friend, a nurse at an Everett hospital, said she was working shifts in a bandanna instead of a mask.

“No one in this field, whether you’re a doctor or a nurse or a medic or a firefighter, has ever seen this happen — ever,” Lonnquist said of the shortage. “As soon as I knew that they didn’t have the PPE they needed in the middle of a pandemic, I sprang to action, as I think a lot of people did.”

Nikki Speaks works on masks at her home on April 10 in Woodinville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Nikki Speaks works on masks at her home on April 10 in Woodinville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Lonnquist, who was a first responder at Ground Zero following 9/11, said she — like so many other police officers and firefighters — long relied on regimented protocols to address disasters.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has turned that world upside down.

“Now we’re in a situation where the system has failed us,” she said. “That means that suddenly we have to step out of those lines, and that’s a really uncomfortable place to be.”

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; rriley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Josh Otusanya, 27, former Lake Stevens high soccer star turned comedian, has 4.6 million followers on TikTok for his inspirational videos from his family's home. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
A funny local TikToker with 5M followers offers life hacks

Josh Otusanya, a Lake Stevens soccer star turned New York comedian, reinvented himself in his family’s basement.

Crews contracted by the Washington State Department of Transportation for pavement work on the U.S. 2 bridge over the Pilchuck River are set to close one lane this weekend to replace and install expansion joints. (WSDOT)
Backups likely during U.S. 2 bridge work near Snohomish

The Pilchuck River bridge east of Highway 9 will close to one lane with alternating traffic.

Deborah Rumbaugh (left), Jay Jordan (center) and John Boyd are finalists for the Stanwood School District's superintendent position.
Finalists for Stanwood schools chief are coming to town

Each will visit the district this week to meet staff and take part in a virtual community forum.

Herald Street Smarts columnist Ben Watanabe and Edmonds City Councilman Luke Distelhorst tour planned new bike lanes on Bowdoin Way on Tuesday morning in Edmonds. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Edmonds will add more bike lanes, reduce some street parking

The city will use a $1.85 million grant from Sound Transit to improve bicycle and pedestrian connections.

Aquasox's Julio Rodriguez hits a two run homer as the Everett Aquasox beat the Tri-City Dust Devils in a home opening game at Funko Field on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
GALLERY: Aquasox beat Tri-City in home opener

Aquasox’s Julio Rodriguez hits a two run homer as the Everett Aquasox… Continue reading

Jeffrey Phebus is sentenced to over 31 years in prison for the murder of his wife Rebecca Phebus, on Monday, May 10, 2021, at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
‘No words’: Arlington man sentenced for killing wife at work

Jeffery Phebus, 61, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 31⅔ years in prison Monday.

The Coupeville-Port Townsend ferry route will only have one vessel until late June, Washington State Ferries announced after an engine fire on one vessel and ongoing crew shortages. (Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News-Times)
Coupeville ferry route down to one boat through June 27

Another delay in two-boat service means Coupeville ferry riders should expect long waits until June.

The design concept for the public plaza outside the Marysville's new civic center set to debut in spring 2022. (City of Marysville)
Former community hub in Marysville set for demolition

Built in 1949, the Ken Baxter Community Center will be removed to make way for the new civic center.

Volunteers from the Rotary Club of Arlington and local Cub Scouts planted trees at Stormwater Wetland Park on May 1. (City of Arlington)
Scouts, Rotarians collaborate to restore an Arlinton park

Rotary and Cub Scouts plant trees in Arlington Stormwater Wetland Park has… Continue reading

Most Read