Assistance League of Bellingham: When the Going Gets Tough…The Tough Get Sewing!

Joani Carrinton busily working on face masks for Whatcom United Command

What do you do when your volunteer-driven nonprofit organization has to close its Thrift & Gift Shop and shutter most of its philanthropic programs?

You start making face masks for medical and social care workers!

Assistance League Bellingham members are passionate about helping our community.  That’s clearly demonstrated through our Philanthropic Programs, some of which provide new school clothes for students and emergency clothing at hospitals.

Our dedicated volunteers had to find ways to channel that energy and commitment. Working closely with local and county authorities, Assistance League Bellingham has been finding ways to help our Whatcom County Community partners during this pandemic situation. Our volunteers, busy at their sewing machines, have supported Whatcom Unified Command’s efforts to channel donations to those groups with the highest needs.

Roxana Parise and Emily Humphrey-Krigbaum, Homeless Liaisons with Bellingham Public Schools, are collaborating to distribute Covid-19 masks made by members of Assistance League Bellingham.  All masks will go to Bellingham families experiencing homelessness, low income, or are medically fragile.

The majority of our members are themselves in high risk groups, so the first thing we did was organize telephone trees to contact members who might be in need of assistance. Then we established a daily online update message to keep all members informed of needed adaptations to our programs, the closure of our Thrift & Gift Shop, and also to share tips for online food shopping and entertainment. We also have collected baby monitors, walkie-talkies and iPads to help in communication with caregivers’ families and patients.

Arlene Cano makes face masks for care centersDuring the shutdown, some of our members and their families decided to start making fabric face masks at home after hearing about the shortages of personal protective equipment at local hospitals and care centers. Those members who know how to sew started making the masks while others who do not sew set about rounding up supplies. To date, we have provided over 350 sanitized face masks. One member with a great deal of experience in sewing and tailoring produced a number of prototypes with different filtering fabrics for review by the WUC.

In addition to making and distributing these face masks; we searched for any aspect of our on-going programs that could be continued without person to person contact. Our members have worked hard to issue checks to Enrichment Scholarship Program recipients who want to attend summer programs. We also continue to run our Teen Team program for homeless high school students.

This is a challenging time for all of us and Assistance League Bellingham has accepted the need to change and adapt. We are confident that once the conditions are safe to do so, we will be ready to reopen our Thrift & Gift Shop and restart our programs. For more information visit our website at


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