“Then There are Those Who See the Need, and Respond”


An order of handmade masks ready for delivery

By Doug Marrin

Few things can be more inspiring than people quietly working behind the scenes doing good for others, not for the sake of public adulation or bragging rights, but from a selfless sense of civic duty, setting aside personal pursuits in favor of the collective good.

One such example is the pragmatically titled group, “Dexter DIY Masks for Our Community in Need.” You can find them on Facebook. It began last spring when Dexter resident Tricia Paff wanted to help healthcare workers by making a few masks. She failed miserably (her words, not mine), but Tricia proved that being subpar at something isn’t a roadblock to getting it done anyway.

“I saw that there was a need for masks, so I tried to make a few, and I was terrible at it,” she says. “What I am good at is organization. It’s in my blood, so that is what I decided to do. I created a Facebook group, and people came out of the woodwork to volunteer.”

One of many medical teams benefiting from the efforts of Dexter DIY Masks

The group quickly formed, and whatever talents members had were put to use. In an April 15 letter to Governor Whitmer imploring her to take advantage of helpful citizen groups in the coronavirus war, Tricia described the Dexter DIY Masks group as, “We transformed from strangers into a well-organized, efficient, and effective mask producing machine in less than 10 days! Our team is growing. We have roughly 45 sewists, 15 dedicated pattern cutters, 10 drivers for local deliveries, 2 long-distance drivers, 3 dedicated community leaders/POC, a GoFundMe manager, spreadsheet experts, a person dedicated to ordering fabric, and lastly, a Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) coordinator.”

Requests from healthcare providers soon poured in. Since then, the group has made thousands of masks and expanded beyond healthcare workers to groups and members of the general population. They also took on the task of sewing caps for healthcare workers.

Dexter DIY Masks is busier than ever. When asked if she ever expected to be doing this 10 months later, Tricia replied, “I did not expect the PPE shortage to last this long. I finally gave in and converted our den into a sewing room that doubles as a remote schoolhouse for my 7th grader during the day.”

One of many Thank You cards received

The entire group is staying strong, as well. “All I can say is that things work out for this group, doors open, people pitch in when they can, and it works out,” says Tricia. “I think the main driver is simply wanting to help other humans in need, no matter how tired we are from homeschooling and the stress of this crazy life called COVID.”

“Through it all, many of us have grown closer on a personal level,” adds Tricia. “Friendships have developed, and we look out for one another and encourage each other to take time off.

In addition to community morale, the group is fueled by the feedback it receives, such as the following:

A person who donated holiday fabric wrote, "What a wonderful full circle! I just saw your post about the holiday fabric being used for scrub caps for the U-M Cardiovascular Center. I had open-heart surgery there a year ago, and they were all so wonderful to me. It warms my heart to know that's where the holiday scrub caps are going."

One of the group’s sewists also wrote, "The cardiovascular center is where my husband (and daughter) go for their hearts, glad to help."

Tricia Paff

Dexter DIY Masks has an impressive list of accomplishments, which include:

  • Specially designed masks for the Dexter High School Marching Band to be worn by students while playing their instruments. (Nod to Debby Bow for her drive and ingenuity here)
  • Sewing see-though masks for ASL interpreters, behavioral therapists, U-M cochlear team, Dexter Post Office, and child care workers.
  • Teaching 29 Dexter National Honor Society Students how to sew masks. The students accumulated 450 hours of community work and produced 1,146 masks for Dexter schools.

And if all of this wasn’t enough, Tricia adds, “Our fundraising over-performed, and we were able to donate $165 to food gatherers. They can stretch a single dollar like nobody else can.”

The group stays busy, and it’s an excellent busy that has positively impacted its members and those the group has served. In summing up Dexter DIY Masks’ purpose and strength, perhaps the words of Fred Rogers, sent to the group on a thank-you card, say it best, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say—It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem. Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

This giant Thank You card captures the essence of Dexter DIY Masks and appreciation of those the group has served.

All photos courtesy of Dexter DIY Masks

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