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Homemade masks pour in to help Rogue Valley nonprofits

Whether for an adult recovering from addiction or a disabled child riding a horse, homemade masks have become critical for local groups that help people.

The need is so high during the COVID-19 crisis that United Way of Jackson County launched a Mask Up campaign to gather donated face masks for dozens of organizations.

The community responded, flooding United Way’s Medford office with more than 1,000 homemade masks. The agency hopes to bring in another 1,000 to fulfill requests.

“What I’ve learned from 25 years of doing this work is if you ask someone for something specific, they’re always going to do it. We asked for masks, and wow, they’re here,” said Dee Anne Everson, CEO and executive director of United Way of Jackson County.

The creative skills of the community are on display, from child-size masks with a Dr. Seuss design to adult masks with sports, camouflage and quilt patterns.

Some organizations have gathered up donations of homemade masks on their own, while others are welcoming the ones funneled through United Way.

Homemade masks will go to seniors needing rides to medical appointments, volunteers packing food boxes for hungry families, people helping abused and neglected kids, and more.

Some local social services groups have remained open throughout the pandemic with stepped up safety measures. Others are cautiously reopening to in-person services as Oregonians test out phase one of the state’s reopening plan.

OnTrack Rogue Valley was one of the organizations that kept its doors open to treat people struggling with addiction.

Many mental health and addiction treatment providers have gone to telephone or video conference counseling sessions, but OnTrack wanted to preserve the option of in-person help to go along with remote access, said Eddie Wallace, communications director.

“For some people in crisis, in-person help is so much more effective. We’ve been really glad to provide that service while observing all the advice and regulations from the Oregon Health Authority,” he said. “Being alone at home can be very dangerous thing for people in recovery.”

OnTrack received about 250 masks sewn by its board president, Pat Kauffman, plus more made by a group of women who normally sew quilts for the organization’s Mom’s Program, Wallace said.

OnTrack probably won’t have to tap into the United Way stockpile, but it’s good to know the masks are there to help other local groups, he said.

“It’s been great. Between United Way and other sources, the community response has been so heartwarming and beneficial,” Wallace said.

Homemade masks help cut the risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus, buttressing other efforts like physical distancing and sanitizing at OnTrack. The organization has taped off chairs 6 feet apart for group sessions.

Wallace said the number of people coming through OnTrack’s doors did drop at the beginning of the pandemic as people sheltered in place.

“I think we’re waiting for that wave to hit. People have not been coming in as frequently, but now the numbers are starting to rise. We’re seeing the effects of substance abuse during COVID-19,” he said.

Whether people want to visit in person or are still afraid of risking exposure and want to reach out remotely, Wallace urged those struggling with addiction to contact a local treatment provider.

“Don’t suffer in silence. People are out there to help,” he said.

The Hope Equestrian Center in Eagle Point is one of the local groups that paused programs at the outset of the pandemic.

It just resume operations, offering therapeutic horse riding for adults and kids with special needs and disabilities, at-risk youth and wounded veterans.

“We’re requiring all riders, volunteers and instructors to wear masks — so we’ll use a lot of them,” said Angie Ballard, executive director for the Hope Equestrian Center.

She said a family member of a rider donated 40 masks to the center. Masks gathered by the United Way will also be useful.

So far, the Hope Equestrian Center can only allow riders back who can ride independently on their own or with an instructor leading a horse, Ballard said.

New riders need too much hands-on help with mounting, dismounting and other aspects of horse riding, she said.

“There’s no way to keep physical distancing,” Ballard said.

For now, only trained volunteers can help out at the center. New volunteers will have to wait, she said.

But in the meantime, most of the experienced riders with the center are eagerly returning to the program, she said.

Ballard said all the masks made by caring people are what help organizations like the Hope Equestrian Center serve kids and adults.

“I think that says a lot about our community and how willing they are to support each other and our local nonprofits,” she said.

Homemade masks can be mailed to United Way, 60 Hawthorne St., Medford, OR 97504, or dropped off at the office from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Before dropping off masks, call ahead at 541-773-5339 or email deeanne@unitedwayofjacksoncounty.org.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch Dee Anne Everson, CEO of United Way, sorts through hand made donated mask at her office in Medford on Wednesday.