The Helpers: Residents step up to support, thank essential workers

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Door County community members have organized to contribute resources to those who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus and the essential workers who continue to provide necessary goods and services.

Sew Masks for Door County

Several Sturgeon Bay community members have formed a volunteer  organization to sew and deliver masks to members of the essential workforce. 

Kayla Bissen, one of the co-organizers of Sew Masks for Door County, said that the idea came out of the free time she had while under quarantine and sewing masks for her relatives and close friends.

“Personally, I wanted the people I loved to be taken care of, and that’s how it started,” Bissen said. “I think we just hit a need in the county where everybody wants their loved ones to be taken care of, too.”


Sew Masks for Door County developed into a two-person operation with the goal of keeping the workers who are unable to stay home and nursing home patients safe. They created a Facebook page and began taking orders for masks, which at first were small. As more volunteers stepped up to join, orders grew into the range of 50 to 100 masks, all within about a week.


“We’ve got a lot of time on our hands now,” she said. “We have [a] quarantine where we have to stay home, and this is a chance for us to give back to the community and still honor the stay-at-home order.”

According to Bissen, the group’s members are now sewing masks for all of the nursing homes, gas stations and grocery stores, plus the hospital and anyone in the community who needs them. She said that the group has nearly 120 volunteers who organize, cut and sew the fabric, then handle the pickups and deliveries. They have sewn upwards of 2,000 masks for the community since they started three weeks ago.

93-year-old Shirley Knapp has been a sewing powerhouse since the beginning. Submitted.

The organization now has donation locations all around the county to receive supplies for the masks. It asks for donations of 100 percent cotton and tightly woven fabrics, as well as elastic. The group can also use interfacing or filter fabric for the inside of the masks.

The fabric is then washed, and volunteers cut it into the appropriate size. When sewers arrive to drop off finished masks, they pick up the next batch of cut fabric.

The organization has teamed up with the Door County Emergency Services Coalition, whose members pick up the finished masks, wash them and bag them for delivery.

Kayla Bissen’s cousin Jodi Pierzchalski and her children Lola and Luke Jorgenson, who pattern cut fabric as an out-of-school art project. Submitted.

Bissen and the volunteers believe it’s important to pay it forward to the essential workers.

“There are a lot of people risking a lot more than I am,” she said. “I get to stay home and be safe, and they don’t get that all of the time. As a community member who loves my community, I know that there are people who have to leave home and put themselves in potential harm’s way, and without them doing their hard work, it would really affect my life, too.”

To request a mask, email [email protected]. You may also ask general questions on the group’s Facebook page. 

The Thank Them Initiative

Banging on pots and pans and applauding outside is how they thank essential workers in New York City, but it isn’t as feasible – and wouldn’t have quite the same effect – in rural Door County. But one group has come up with visual signs of gratitude.

Two Sturgeon Bay couples started a campaign to show their thanks to those who are working on the front lines.

Archelle “Buttons” and Henk Wolst, along with Barb and Dick Allmann, realized that they are a part of the demographic that’s most vulnerable to the virus and felt an obligation to thank those who are putting their lives on the line to provide for them and keep them safe.

Many local businesses have joined in on visual thank-yous. Submitted.

Considering that handshakes and hugs are no longer an option, they sought to get as many community members as possible to put ribbons around trees and paper hearts in windows as symbols of their indebtedness to the hard workers throughout the county.

They started the initiative to give extra praise to the health-care workers of Door County, but they realized this wasn’t all of the acknowledgment that they merited. They used blue ribbons to represent the colors of the armor that medical workers use to shield themselves from the virus and then asked, what if someone wants to show support but doesn’t have blue ribbon?

A bow in a tree in front of the BellinHealth Clinic in Sturgeon Bay symbolizing thanks for healthcare workers. Submitted.

“What about the grocery store clerk?” Henk Wolst said. “What about the garbage collector? What about the mail [carriers]? They are all doing a service, so why not make it any color ribbon? The variety of colors of ribbon, the variety of people who are helping us. If you don’t have ribbon, cut out a piece of paper, gift wrap or anything else and put it in your window,” he said.

Wolst and his wife, Buttons, said they’ve been putting ribbons and paper hearts all over the county to show their thanks. He also said that upon spreading the word, other businesses have joined the campaign.

A thank-you sign on the inside of the trunk lid of Henk and Buttons’ car as they awaited groceries from the pickup service at Main Street Market in Egg Harbor. Submitted.

“There’s the old saying that what motivates about as well as anything is a pat on the back,” Wolst said. “I think in this case, a collective, huge pat on the back should send a message to all those people that their services and goods are absolutely embraced and appreciated like you can’t begin to imagine.”

All are encouraged to participate in the Thank Them initiative to show how valuable these workers are.

“Put up your ribbon bow,” the organizers wrote in a press release. “Put up your heart. Get your neighbors to. Get your friends to. Together let’s show all these good people that we want to thank them.”

Gibraltar Baseball Donates

The Gibraltar High School baseball team painstakingly raised funds for a team trip this spring. Now that the trip won’t happen, team members chose to put those funds to a greater use, donating $1,500 to the Door County Fire Chiefs Association. 

“I couldn’t be any prouder of these boys,” said baseball coach Jay Kita

The Gibraltar baseball team donated $1,500 to the Door County Fire Chiefs Association. (From left) Gibraltar Fire Chief Andrew Bertges Gibraltar senior baseball players Will Brandt, Dominic Krauel and Brandon Stillman. Submitted.

Solomon Lindenberg is a Peninsula Pulse intern and editor of the Viking Voice, the Gibraltar student newspaper.

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