One mask at a time: The Hamilton County Indiana Mask Brigade fights for health with their own hands

The Hamilton County Mask Brigade fights for health with their own hands


Jane Jeong and Bergan Zebrauskas

Libby Sutherland had a million reasons to want to fight Covid-19. She, of course, wanted to protect her kids who have heart conditions and her mother who lives with them. But she also didn’t want her kids, a junior and a senior at NHS, to have to miss out on special milestones like prom and graduation. And so, with a newfound conviction to do what she could to protect healthcare workers, her family, and her friends, she decided to form the Hamilton County Indiana Mask Brigade.

From the very beginning, the Mask Brigade’s goal to make and deliver masks couldn’t be accomplished by Sutherland alone. In fact, Sutherland herself can’t actually sew, but she still wanted to create a system in which people could contribute to the creation of masks in other ways. 

“I thought, ‘What a great idea, we’ll do an assembly line,’” Sutherland said. “People like me that don’t sew can go get material. We can drive and drop it off at this person’s house. We can find people who can cut a straight line.”

Immediately after creating a Facebook group, Sutherland made her friend, Mindy Riley, an administrator of the group. Because Riley herself can sew, she had already been thinking about making masks after learning about the need for them and was on board with the group.

 “I thought it was a great idea, I was kind of thinking that I thought we need more protection for our workers out there and everything so I thought it was a much-needed thing,” Riley said.

Together, they set up a space for communication between residents of Hamilton County who, like Sutherland and Riley, wanted to do their part. One of the earliest members, Nicole Bachus, just happened to come across the group and decided she wanted to join.

“I learned about the need for masks the day before Libby founded the group. And because our computers listen to me – I’m convinced – it showed up as an option and suggested the group on Facebook, and here I am,” Bachus said.

Being a smaller, much more local group meant that early requests mostly came from familiar faces and asked for small numbers of masks.

“Some requests in the beginning were just a phone call saying, ‘Hey we really need some masks. Can you guys give us 20?’” Sutherland said. “We’ve had a lot of members who have neighbors in healthcare and stuff and their office needed twenty or thirty. And so they just sewed them and gave them to them.”

Despite the Mask Brigade’s humble beginnings, it has grown thanks to the group’s adaptability, teamwork, and willingness to help out in any way they can. To date, the group has delivered over 20,000 items including not only masks, but also face shields, head bands, barrier gowns, scrub caps, and more all because of communication within the group.

“We had a nurse who wanted scrub caps because they’re washing their hair twice: they’re getting up in the morning, taking a shower, and then heading right out so as to not bring anything from their home environment to work […] But they’ve worked a 12 hour shift and in a lot of cases, they have sat there with people that are dying that are without their family and it is emotionally devastating for them. They just don’t need one more thing,” Sutherland said. “To me, as a mom, I would want to be able to hold my children the very second I could. Being able to step into a shower and quickly wash off and being able to hold them vs. having to wash my hair – I’d be all over that. So we were like, ‘Sure’ and started making scrub caps.”

Sutherland learned of the need for barrier gowns from a mother of a firefighter in the Westfield Fire Department. After contacting someone already making the gowns and realizing the instructions were extremely complicated, a member of the Mask Brigade made them more accessible for others.

“But at the same time, we just got a new volunteer in Zionsville who is Costumes by Jelebobo and she makes professional dance costumes, so she said, ‘I could probably help you with those gowns,’” Sutherland said. “So Westfield gave us one of their barrier gowns and we got it to her along with the directions such as they were, and she dissected the gown, created directions, made a template, and then we handed out the templates.”

The Mask Brigade’s growth means that it not only delivers to healthcare workers, but it now also supplies equipment to police departments, fire departments, and other essential workers. It also meant that the Brigade’s sphere of influence was stretching far beyond the borders of Hamilton County, even expanding past the borders of Indiana.

“There was a guy originally from Indianapolis or Hamilton County. He runs a school on an Indian reservation in Arizona, and they were desperately trying to get a hold of masks and having a really hard time because the only ones they could get a hold of were the material ones, but they were ten and fifteen dollars a piece and they needed quantities,” Sutherland said. “So we were able to put together 400 masks and a lady volunteered to pay the shipping so she came and picked up 400 masks and shipped them to Arizona.”

With hundreds of items needing to be organized, boxed, and delivered everyday, it is fair to say that Sutherland is incredibly busy. Sutherland has virtually no time to herself because she handles and organizes a huge bulk of the group’s requests and deliveries. And yet, she can’t seem to slow down. 

“But with doing this sixteen hours a day, I’m completely addicted to it. I just am. I’m like, ‘Ooh, what do you need? We’re going to find a way to source that,’” Sutherland said.

Along with the group’s growth, Sutherland, Riley, and the rest of the Mask Brigade’s drive is paying off. 

“It has been so great, it’s like a huge family and hopefully we’re making a difference for the people who are actually in direct exposure of the virus,” Riley said. “Hopefully the impact is really that certain people are more protected at their job, that’s the real impact that we hope for.”

The Mask Brigade has gotten so big, in fact, that they have set up a Fundly with plans to get nonprofit status and join other states to become a nationwide organization. But all of this wouldn’t be possible without people in Hamilton County being so willing and ready to jump in and help each other out. 

“I think [I joined] because I feel like as a group we can have a bigger impact. I mean, I could have gone on my own, and I’m not an expert seamstress by any stretch of the imagination, and I could’ve made a few masks here and there,” Bachus said. “But I really felt like together as a group, we could do a lot. We could be more productive and have a bigger impact on the community just through teamwork and I think that’s exactly what’s happened.”

Even personally, being a part of a collective group dedicated to helping others has actually helped the members themselves in some ways.

“There’s a number of women in my neighborhood who are part of it, so it’s a way for us to connect even though we haven’t been connected. If I’m not working, I’m on Facebook Messenger coordinating stuff. And I’m also never bored, there’s always a pile to sew,” Bachus said. “I’m married so my husband’s around all the time too, but it’s nice to just be able to talk to some of my friends and have something to talk about and still connect even though we can’t directly connect.”

The group and the circumstances that led to its creation have become a reminder of the importance of community in trying times like today, but also when things seem to be normal.

“It’s easy to get into a family routine or lifestyle routine and not always think about your neighbor or other people that are out there that might be struggling that just a little bit here or there might really make a difference in their life,” Mask Brigade member Val Williamson said. “And I think this has brought us back to recognizing that there are people in our community that we can help without it really costing […] a lot to maybe help change somebody’s life. I think this has helped us realize that.”

Sutherland’s simple wish for her kids to have prom and a graduation has become a huge operation that extends beyond even Indiana, and in the process has become a sort of movement.

“It’s just been really amazing, I love Hamilton County, I love Noblesville and I really wanted to pull in that sense of community, of working together,” Sutherland said. “Because the more we work together as a community, obviously the more we can do, but the more people you have working on the masks are more people who are telling people, ‘Put your mask on. Don’t walk into that store without a mask on.’”

Although it was created during a time stressing isolation and separation, the growth of the Mask Brigade is a testament to the power of community and togetherness which can be seen right here in Hamilton County.


If you want to join the Hamilton County Indiana Mask Brigade, click this link:


If you would like to donate and help the Hamilton County Indiana Mask Brigade become a nonprofit, click this link: