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Bakersfield resident Nancy Rink has sewn dozens of face masks since last week for friends, family and front line workers. 

A small army of local volunteers is furiously sewing face masks that can be distributed to workers on the front lines if necessary, whether they are grocery store employees, first responders or medical workers.

"An easy 500 women are sewing masks right now," said Heather Frank on Monday. "It just blew up over the weekend."

Frank along with her friend Brittany Amon organized an effort on Facebook to collect handmade masks. 

So far, about 2,500 masks have been sewn since Friday, Frank said. The group has partnered with Adventist Health Foundation in a goal to make 5,000 masks that can be distributed to frontline pandemic workers if there's a need.

The masks are not intended to substitute for the N95 masks used in hospitals and medical settings, Frank said. But they can be used by a nurse when they go home and wants to protect her family, for example.

Bakersfield resident Nancy Rink began making face masks last week for friends and family with prior medical conditions that make them more vulnerable in the pandemic.

Her daughter is a cancer survivor and a good friend has a pulmonary condition and must wear a mask whenever she leaves the house. But she has been unable to buy any lately.  With a son who lives in Seattle, where one of the country's first major outbreaks happened, and a husband, Oliver Rink, a former Cal State Bakersfield history professor, who taught a class on pandemics, concerns about the virus were hitting close to home.

So Rink, a professional fabric designer for Marcus Fabrics and a longtime quilter, got to work.

She estimates she's made at least 60 masks in the past week. Aside from friends and family, she donated a pile to a neighbor who is a physician and she plans to make more to contribute to the Adventist Health 5,000 face mask goal. She uses tight-weave, 100 percent cotton fabric because it holds up better to high temperatures needed to sterilize the masks for reuse, Rink said. She also made a YouTube video showing her process so others can join the effort.

"They’re not medical grade but something is better than nothing at this point," Rink said. "The healthy people need to stay healthy. We need to stay out of doctor’s offices and emergency rooms."

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