The Brigade marches on

Seattle Mask Brigade amasses thousands in donations, spawns spin-off efforts nationwide

They began last week as a small group of Seattle women with a gripe. This week, they’re a juggernaut.


The women of The Seattle Mask Brigade have been coordinating donations and distribution of medical masks for just a week now. The grass-roots effort was mounted to help front-line health care workers who are struggling with a nationwide shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the fight against the Novel Coronavirus pandemic, also known as COVID-19.

When we first told you about them last Thursday, March 19, they’d already collected about 1,500 masks from some 100 donors.

On Tuesday, March 24, they’d amassed some 6,000 masks. More than 350 people have now stepped up. And they’re being distributed as fast as volunteers can turn them around.

More than 2,000 masks donated from nurses on Harstine Island ready for distribution.

Here’s just one example of the effort’s reach and scope: According to volunteers, this week a group of nurses on Harstine Island, 10 miles north of Olympia, donated 2,300 healthcare grade masks, plus some gowns. Brigade volunteer Dawn Lum asked her brother-in-law pick them up and bring them to Tacoma where Dawn picked them up and delivered to Swedish Medical Center — Chery Hill and anesthesiologist Dr. Oliver Small.

“We’re incredibly thankful,” Dr. Small said. “It means so much to us.”

 “Certainly people have stepped up at a moment’s notice,” said Julianne Dalcanton, chair of the University of Washington’s astronomy department and organizer of the group. “People really understand what front-line health care workers are going through and happy to be able to help.

Volunteer Dawn Lum delivers 2,300 masks to Dr. Oliver Small, in the blue scrubs, at Swedish Cherry Hill.

“But I didn’t think it would scale up to this degree!”

Through social media, others across the country have learned about the Seattle effort and are communicating with Julianne to replicate the effort. Take a look on their website and you’ll find a growing list of cities from coast to coast who’ve jumped on the mask brigade bandwagon.

“I think it speaks to how much people want to help. And how much one simple act can have a great impact,” said another of the organizers, Cricket Farr, Full Life Care’s Housing Stabilization and Supports Director. “This is definitely very unifying at same time we‘re all feeling very isolated.

“Maybe we’re not nearly as isolated as we think.”

In addition to Julianne and Cricket, the group includes Lee Harper, retired executive director of the Phinney Neighborhood Association, marketing consultant Leah Friberg; Jenny Gaus, a storm water engineer with the City of Kirkland; Swedish Hospital Internist Dr. Britt Anderson; and new member Emilia Jones.

The exponential growth of the effort highlights the supply crisis felt by medical facilities nationwide. And even though manufacturers are stepping up production, the Seattle Brigade is still getting calls from medical offices and emergency rooms in the region as word of their work spreads.

The effort has even gained national press attention. BuzzFeed News posted a story last Friday.

Brigade volunteer Lee Harper peeks out from behind another batch of mask donations.

And on Monday, Julianne was interviewed on the BBC OS radio program. She joined two other grass-root organizers: Simone Policano, who helped form Invisible Hands in New York City, a volunteer delivery service to help people at high risk of contracting the coronavirus stay confined; and Dan Lurie, who replicated a mask collection effort in the San Francisco Bay area. You can hear the interview here, starting 34 minutes into the program:

The Seattle Brigade will continue its efforts. But all the women involved have emphasized that they hope their work is just a stop-gap until the regular supply chain can meet demand.

“We would love to be obsolete,” Julianne quipped. “Our goal is to get out of the business.”

Want to help? You can message Julianne: @dalcantonJD. Or, visit