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Local mask making projects distribute hundreds of cloth protective masks 


Nicolette Harley-Barth sewing masks at home.

–A spontaneous wave of locals with sewing machines, motivated by the lack of personal protection equipment for those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, are making protective masks for as many in need as possible.

These hand made masks help prevent the spread of the virus by controlling the spread of droplets from coughing or sneezing said Nicolette Harley, another local mask seamstress. Harley, a real estate broker with the Harley Group in Paso Robles and president of the Paso Robles Rotary, said she started making masks in response to requests from a local assisted living facility. Working with a group of friends, they have distributed over 500 masks to the community, including nurses and local businesses.

Patricia Juarez formed a group of mask-makers after being inspired by her mother who was sewing masks for the family. “My husband works for Cal Fire and I’m very aware of how important personal protection is against this virus,” Juarez has started the Facebook group, Masks for our Emergency Service SLO County, to help deliver washable reusable masks to hospitals, fire departments, ambulance personnel and police in San Luis Obispo County. Members of that group have produced over 1000 masks as of April 13.

Local mask-maker, Colleen Leigh-Philippsen modeling one of her handmade masks.

Local Colleen Leigh-Philippsen found herself feeling “angry, frustrated and scared about the fact that the medical community isn’t being protected because the PPE isn’t available.” She wanted to put her feelings into action. “I was first inspired by a segment on the news that said hospitals and healthcare workers were requesting homemade masks because they were not getting shipments of PPE that they needed. I wanted to help however I could to support the first responders. And I know how to sew!”

Leigh-Phllippsen reached out to the community through Nextdoor Neighborhood and to friends, including Deb Albright, a quilter. Soon after there were enough masks to start making deliveries to local laboratories, banks and to French Hospital in San Luis Obispo. “ Albright said her masks have been distributed locally and to Southern California. A relative in Manhattan Beach was motivated to start making masks as well as “My sister in Nevada, a retired nurse, also started making them.”

“Personally, I’ve made and distributed over 200 masks,” said Leigh-Philippsen. Masks made by her and her group are free to medical staff and first responders. “I’ve also made masks for local businesses and carry them in my car all the time to give away if I see someone who needs one.” She has even sent masks as far away as New York.

Local business owner, Cynthia Mann saw a need for the masks locally and immediately put her employees to work donating their time and fabric to the cause. Birch Fabrics has donated fabric, created template instructions and donated employee time to help with the creation of masks for local healthcare providers.

How to help

For anyone needing masks, interested in helping make masks, or donating, contact one of the following:

  • Nicolette Harley at
  • Colleen Leigh-Philippsen at
  • Patricia Juarez with Masks for our Emergency Services in SLO County requests that monetary and supply donations be made to the CDF SLO County Firefighters Benevolent Association. “This organization administers our 501c (3) account.” Make checks payable to SCOCOFBA. Mail donations to CDFSLO County Firefighters Benevolent Association, P.O. Box 810, San Luis Obispo CA 93406.

How to make cloth masks

Following updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the County of San Luis Obispo Public Health Department is encouraging residents to wear cloth face coverings when unable to maintain a safe six-foot distance.

A free pattern and instructions is available on the Birch Fabric website. Birch Fabric is a Paso Robles business that is supporting mask making projects.

The following two videos from the Paso Robles Daily News editorial, “ Let’s all do our part and cover our mouths and noses in public” provide instructions”


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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.