By Aaron Allen
The Seattle Medium
One thing about the African American community in Seattle is that many people answer the call to help during times of need.
A recent example of this was the creativity of five African American women who stepped up to make a difference during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Seattleites Karen Jones, Sonia Wooten-Gill, and Anita Beck, along with Jones’ daughter, Chavela Johnson, and granddaughter, Averianna Wade took it upon themselves to be proactive and contribute their skills as seamstresses to provide homemade face masks and other materials such as pillow cases, sheets, and blankets in the hopes that it would help aid hospitals, homeless shelters and other entities combat this crisis.
Karen Jones, the granddaughter of the late Powell Barnett — a local community leader, organizer and first president of the Leschi Improvement Council – who has a park located on Martin Luther King Way between Jefferson and Alder named after him, is deeply rooted in activism. And as a pioneer in the early days of desegregation, Sonia Wooten-Gill, a career seamstress, was one the first Black students to integrate Rainier Beach high school in the late 1960s.
As the COVID-19 Coronavirus began to overtake our community, Wooten-Gill felt the need to help the community overcome this challenge. She looked to see where her gift to sew could be used and got involved in a face mask challenge promoted by local hospitals. The 100 masks Challenge was Wooten-Gills venue. So, she contacted her good friend, Karen Jones, and the two began producing as many masks as they possibly could.
“I hear stories of people who came in contact with the virus and how the crisis is playing on our fears and I struggled with this as I tried to remain positive and figure out how I could be of help,” says Wooten-Gill, of her initial interest to help out.
As the crisis worsened, the hospitals, in order to protect as many patients and frontline workers as possible, had to discontinue the challenge to alleviate the spread of the virus, so Wooten-Gill and Jones decided to find other avenues in which to supply their mask.
As word got around about their endeavor, orders began to inundate them, which to them was a good thing because churches, shelters, friends and families began putting in orders for face masks.
“Churches and other organizations as far away as Texas and California heard about what we were doing and started ordering masks and here we are today doing what we can to make a difference and be of help,” says Jones.
With the help of her daughter and granddaughter, Jones says that she has turned her home into a mini face mask production plant. But the women say that this effort is a labor of love as they find honor in doing their part to help fight the pandemic.
“It is an honor and a pleasure to help others in this time of crisis,” says Jones of their efforts.
Jones’ granddaughter, Averianna Wade agrees.
“I am here to help with the virus and make sure everyone is ok,” says Wade. “The virus face masks will help to get people outside and be with their families and friends at a safe distance and to stay safe in this time of need.”
As the orders continue to come in Jones and Wooten-Gill are doing all they can to keep up. At times materials have run low or run out, but they’ve been resourceful in their attempts to find the materials needed to continue. In Tacoma, Anita Beck has taken on the same endeavor as the ladies have come together to take on this challenge. Beck has had ample amounts of supplies and has provided Jones with the needed materials to continue their quest.
Although they are no longer making face masks for hospitals, the crew has been busy fulfilling orders for places like Spirit of a Tiny Village, a homeless shelter that needs faces masks, pillows and blankets to help protect those in need like the elderly and homeless.
The women acknowledge that they have a lot of work ahead of them but they are up to the challenge.
Jones describes her home as a bit of mess with all that is going on, but says that is not going to stop her.
“Normally my home is orderly,” says Jones. “But with this crisis and the responsibilities we have taken on my home is a bit of a mess at this time, but for what we are trying to accomplish it is worth the mess.”
In these dire straits it is important to note the importance of everyone doing their part. The community coming together to get through these hard times and this is nothing new to the Black community, as we have always stepped up as a people in the face of adversity and today, just as in history, is no different.
“God has blessed me, so I am blessed and if I can help in any way I can, I will,” says Wooten-Gill. “I look at this way, I am my brothers and my sisters keeper, lets just hope we don’t run out of material.”