A group of women from several northern Illinois towns have taken it upon themselves to sew face masks.

In less than two weeks, a cadre of volunteers have made and donated more than 500 face masks to local medical and essential organizations across the stateline area. A simple social media post, combined with the reach of an established Facebook group, Winnebago, Ill. Community Group, has galvanized folks from Winnebago, South Beloit, Rockton, Rockford, Pecatonica, Byron, Davis, Rochelle, Freeport and beyond.

Masks have been provided to groups you might expect like, medical clinics, nursing homes, and hospice groups, and some you might not – mail and parcel workers, grocery stores, pharmacies, and senior meal services.

Beth Cote, a Winnebago resident, first raised the idea of making masks on March 20 via social media.

“While it seemed like a great idea,” Cote shared, “I wanted to ensure that there was a true need and that we knew what materials and patterns would meet that need.” She was quickly connected with medical professionals and other organizations who encouraged the effort and was able to put together materials lists, patterns and sewing instructions.

“From there more than 50 people have been using their social distancing time to cut fabric and sew face masks; others have donated money, their stash of fabric or tracked down hard-to-find elastic bands. “One of our volunteers is sewing on her grandmother’s machine and loving every second of it,” Cote said.

“Not being able to be in the classroom with my students, I had to find some way to keep busy,” said Karen Hill. The Freeport Alternative High School teacher and long-time mentor of Winnovation, Winnebago’s robotics team, has also enlisted the help of the robotics kids and their parents. “Obviously our team can’t meet to work on the robot, so some of our kids are cutting material and their parents are sewing or dropping the finished masks off.”

Other community leaders have also played a key role. Stephanie King moderates the Facebook group and has consistently shared information and connected people around this project. “I envisioned the Facebook group as a ‘cork board’ for missing pets, local events, and neighborhood alerts, a vehicle to bring people together. The reach of this mask-making initiative has been very powerful.”

Michelle Princer, owner of Toni’s of Winnebago, a local restaurant, encouraged her staff to get involved and then took it a step further and offered a promotion (carry out, obviously) trading a large one-topping pizza for 10 masks. “We’ve all been impacted by COVID-19. I hope this effort encourages a sense of accomplishment and positivity in these difficult times,” Princer shared.

What started out as a small project in a small town, with the goal to support family and friends working in difficult conditions due to COVID-19, has extended far beyond that. “We see efforts like this all over social media; we’re sharing instructions with and getting sewing tips from folks across the country.

“We now have volunteers throughout the region and have delivered masks to more than 20 organizations,” Cote said. The group will continue to sew masks as long as there is an identified need and has started making clear plastic face shields which are also in short supply.

If you would like to help out or donate sewing materials, please send an email to

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