When a rural Idaho manufacturer received approval to make ventilators for two local hospitals that were sharing just one, the good news came with a catch – its employees must have masks to wear before production could begin.
Amid nationwide mask shortages in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, that was a big problem.
So, they called U.S. Bank employee Dusti Bacon.
“It was late in the afternoon when they called, needing 150 masks by morning,” recalled Bacon.
She continued, “This hit really close to home, I mean, the whole reason I had started making masks was to try to save lives or to stop the virus from spreading. But ventilators, something that we were hearing cries of concern about from hospitals, of course I was going to do anything I could to help.”
Fueled by determination and coffee, Bacon set up a living room assembly line, assigned tasks to her husband and sewed through the night. By sunrise, just minutes before the manufacturer was set to stop by for contactless pickup on her front porch, she completed the order.
Over the past six months, Bacon has sewn and donated more than 7,600 fabric masks from her home in Post Falls, Idaho, near Spokane, Washington. They’ve made their way around the world, from New York to London to Australia.
Her efforts started due to personal circumstance in late 2019. Bacon was facing significant challenges with an existing health condition of her own and, feeling a bit scared of the virus-related headlines coming out of China, she went into somewhat of a self-quarantine before COVID-19 officially reached the United States.
“[China] seemed concerned about how fast they were going through masks,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Wow, I know we get a lot of our medical supplies from China. If they’re going to have a problem with mask supply, so are we.’”
With the help of YouTube, she started sewing masks, first for personal use. Then for friends, as the pandemic arrived. Then friends of friends. And soon after, for nursing homes and healthcare providers as certain kinds of fabric masks became acceptable amid the extreme N95 shortages.
The operation has been, quite literally, more than a full-time job. Bacon has volunteered nearly 2,000 hours this year, while also working normal hours in her role in the retail payments division at U.S. Bank. This has meant flipping her laptop closed at the end of the workday and firing up her sewing machine for hours into the night.
At times, Bacon said, it’s also felt like she’s been running a company. As word spread of her efforts, her personal Facebook page became flooded with requests. She’s effectively been a manufacturer, a customer service representative, a supply chain manager, an international exporter, a nonprofit executive and more.
“Did most of these people reaching out know they were putting in a request to one person and a sewing machine? No,” she laughed. “They’d just heard about a lady with an unusual name who could hook them up with masks.”
And of her shipping and handling team, she said with a smile, “Well, my husband is a postman.”
U.S. Bank provides employees with 16 hours of paid time off per year to spend volunteering. Needless to say, Bacon has happily exhausted that time (plus her vacation). She said she’s also grateful that her manager has given her flexibility with her work schedule throughout the year.
“I love working for U.S. Bank because we’re ethical and do the right thing,” she said. “I worked in the customer service department for years. We wouldn’t just do what we had to, but above and beyond.”
Above and beyond is, perhaps, the best way to describe how Bacon has helped her community – and, well, the world – respond to the pandemic. Only now, as mask requests have slowed down as national supplies have risen, has she started to realize just how much of a difference she’s made this year.
“Sometimes I step back and think about how ‘little me’ could be making such a big impact in anything. But I feel like this has been my destiny…” she reflected, with a pause, “…what I was made to do.”