Free face masks: one woman’s mission

Taped to a fence in a quiet street on Brisbane’s southside are 20 face masks, carefully sewn and individually wrapped.

Written in chalk are the words ‘FREE FACE MASKS’, #masks4all and ‘PLEASE TAKE ONE’. Twice a day Beth Crothers replenishes the wall of masks, putting out 2o at a time, the product of thousands of volunteers working to ensure the most vulnerable are protected.

Back in March, a group of women around the nation came together to ensure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was available for health workers after shortfalls caused by the horror bushfire season. Since then, Masks For Mates has expanded, with an army of 2000 direct volunteers and up to 4000 more sewing masks for vulnerable people.

In Queensland, Ms Crothers — Masks for Mates national co-ordinator — has taken to putting the handmade masks on the front fence of her Mackie St, Moorooka, home watching almost 400 be collected on Sunday alone, despite Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young’s official advice remaining strong on masks not being necessary.

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“I needed a way to get masks out to people who need them, so I’ve been putting a small amount out at a time,” Ms Crothers told NCA NewsWire.

She puts 20 out of a morning and 20 of an afternoon, but sometimes they are all gone within 30 minutes.

On Sunday, Ms Crothers replenished more often, pinning 380 to her fence throughout the day.

“In total, Masks for Mates have supplied over 80,000 masks to people who need them most around the country since March,” she said.

“They’ve gone to hospitals, clinics, police, disability and aged care providers, and other community volunteer groups. Now, we’re letting people in our community know where they too can find a mask.

“In Queensland, on the southside we have a large indigenous population who are at a higher risk of this virus, as well as refugees and other people of low income.

“The problem with masks is you generally need more than one, and that can add up … not everyone can afford that.

“We want to make sure people who need masks can access them.”

Ms Crothers said she was concerned health advice surrounding masks hadn’t been updated in Queensland, particularly given last week’s evidence of some community transmission in the Logan area.

“The way I see it, you wear a mask to protect other people, not just yourself,” she said.

“It’s a show of kindness … it shows that you care about other people.”

Masks for Aussies, an informative and educative website, has been set up by Ms Crothers and her team, working closely with a host of experts, including ABC health adviser Dr Norman Swan and infectious disease specialist Professor Raina Macintyre to ensure there was accurate information available for people considering whether or not to wear a mask.

“The government has been slow reacting to this all the way down the line … we’ve known for some time face masks in community use when there is any type of virus can be effective,” she said.

“This virus is spread by coughing and sneezing … if you do that into a mask you don’t spread germs.

“The government has a point when they say they’re only 20 per cent effective in protecting people, but they’re actually 70 or 80 per cent effective in preventing spread.”

Already mask walls or clothes lines are popping up around Brisbane’s southside, with Ms Crothers calling for more people to get involved with Masks for Mates.

“We have the most amazing community of women and men in Australia, they want to protect their community,” she said.

That’s in addition to the 2200 volunteers working for Masks for Mates directly, and the more than 4000 volunteers available to them through Sewing for Charity Australia.

Ms Crothers said she was deeply concerned by the situation unfolding in Victoria and is urging people to consider wearing masks before it is too late.

“If we have a situation like in Melbourne, so many small businesses will close … they can’t cope with having to do that over again,” she said.

“If people in the community can play a part in stopping that spread, they should.

“We need people to understand that wearing a mask is safe.”

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