GREAT FALLS — When Samantha Shinaberger started the Facebook group Medical Masks for Great Falls, she had no idea what it would become.
“I thought it would be done,” Shinaberger admitted. “(I thought) we would need masks for maybe the month of March and we would just slowly fizzle out and kind of move on, but we’ve continued to grow and the support, I just never imagined we’d have this kind of support, so it’s been incredible.”
At first, it was just her and 10 of her friends. She asked them to invite their friends, who invited their friends and so on. At the time I’m writing this story, the group sits at 903 members. Shinaberger estimates that the group grows by around two to three people every day.
The purpose of the online group was originally to make masks for organizations in need. They started with healthcare groups, then expanded to organizations like the Great Falls Rescue Mission and Malmstrom Air Force Base.
That was when their vision for the group didn’t include the Coronavirus pandemic lasting this long.
Now in July, the group is as big as ever and is committed to continuing its mission. The masks that they donate are sewn by members and volunteers. Those who can’t sew contribute by spreading the word and donating supplies to those that can. The mission has also grown from just providing masks to healthcare organizations facing shortages, to a wider range of groups, which are in need now more than ever after Governor Bullock’s statewide mask mandate required masks to be worn in most public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.
The next goal is schools. And with Great Falls Public Schools set to reopen next month, their timing couldn’t be better.
“We’ve actually started creating a lot more children’s masks,” Samantha explained. “We’re not really sure where the direction of the school will be opening if they’re going to have a mask mandate or how they’re going to kind of control that, so we’ve started kind of building up our children’s mask supply so we can prepare either way. And then we do want to help spread awareness and help with those that might not be with an organization. The elderly that are at home, someone that is in need that just doesn’t have the ability to purchase a mask. We want to help those people.”
The group isn’t just comprised of Great Falls residents either. In fact, it’s not just Montanans.
Shinaberger says they get new members joining from just about everywhere. That includes states like North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, New York, and California. A few months ago, they even had some new members from South Africa. How they found this group isn’t 100% clear, but Shinaberger has a hunch.
“I’ve asked a few (how they found the group), and they saw our page that I created on our Clinic’s website,” she said. “It actually went viral on Google because it was an approved mask design by an infectious disease person, and so I think Google brought us to the top. They found it from there.”
Whether you live in Montana or not, the group is always looking for new members, volunteers, and supplies.
“If anyone wants to help sew, we would greatly appreciate it,” said Samantha. “If you have supplies, we get a lot of fabric donations from people that used to sew, no longer sew, or maybe they just don’t like the fabric design, so you can donate any of those materials; elastic, bias tape, thread, we use all of it, so feel free to donate anything. If you can’t sew, you can always donate, you can always just support and spread the word too.”
The group is open to new members, go to Medical Masks for Great Falls on Facebook, answer a few questions, and you’re in.