It was March 19 when costume designer Lauren Oppelt started to make masks. The coronavirus pandemic meant PPE workers putting themselves on the frontlines were at risk because they didn’t have enough protective gear.
“I got a call from a childhood friend who worked at Kaiser Permanente who told me she was reusing her N95 mask,” Oppelt says.
From there, her mask-making efforts have escalated. In just under a month, Oppelt has rallied actors, producers, dog owners, costume designers and seamstresses for the Mask Crusaders, an effort to make sure PPE workers have the protective gear they need.
“I’m working with the Motion Picture Costumers Local 705, the Costume Designer’s Guild, Local 44 and I.A.T.S.E. on this as well as Mask Crusaders and it’s become a collaborative union effort,” Oppelt explains. She is the chairperson of the mask-making committee.
To date, the Mask Crusaders have shipped out 9000 masks, and that number is constantly rising.
Three times a week, Oppelt goes to the post office and ships out between 1200 and 1500 masks all over the country. The army of mask-makers recently shipped 40 masks to the New Jersey’s Fireman’s Home, with another 195 heading their way. On Monday morning, the Quincy, Mass., police department received 60 handmade masks.
“It has just turned into this huge thing,” Oppelt says.
The next goal is to go global. Oppelt and the Mask Crusaders are working with costume designers in the Netherlands and possibly Norway.
“We sent some masks to the U.K, and we are going to Scandinavia, baby!” she says. “I’ve got members from various EU countries that we are working with.”
It’s not just Oppelt and The Mask Crusaders making PPE gear. It’s other costume designers, seamstresses and union members providing tutorials and sending masks to those who need them the most.
“This is a Rosie the Riveter army,” Oppelt says. “We are working 80-100 hours a week, unpaid.”
Pay parity has been an ongoing discussion for costume designers, and Oppelt notes that their skills should not be undervalued.
“This is something we need to talk about because our skills are often being trivialized, and yet, we have skills that are saving people’s lives,” she adds.