Mask tree grows in downtown Brattleboro

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BRATTLEBORO — "Free masks!" reads a sign hanging from a tree in Pliny Park downtown, offering face coverings to keep germs from spreading in the coronavirus pandemic.

"We're trying to keep it full," said Oscar Heller, who helps get masks to people in need as part of the Brattleboro Area Mutual Aid, a neighbor-to-neighbor support program.

Masks come from the local Sewing Masks group on Facebook and are attached to branches. Face coverings are now required by the town inside of establishments open to the public.

At first, Heller hung 20 masks on the tree Saturday morning and they were gone by 4 p.m. or sooner. He said within the first 36 hours, 82 masks went up and were taken.

Heller recalled giving away three in about 10 minutes while putting up a batch. He said someone from the Sewing Masks group put up about 20 at about 10:45 a.m. Tuesday and he had another order in for 100 more.

A message from Town Clerk Hilary Francis prompted Heller to pick up the project. He said other places, including Putney, have similar trees and he was thinking about setting one up.

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"When I heard the discussion about masks, I knew there would be some people in our community who would not have access to them," Francis said. "I remember Elliot Street Fish, Chips & More doing a tree around the holidays for people in need and how successful it was. And I have heard of other communities starting mask trees. It seemed like a no brainer, especially knowing how generous our hard-working mask sewers have been in Brattleboro."

Francis said she is "thrilled" about how quickly Heller ran with the idea and brought the mask tree to life.

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"I think it's a great reminder that we are all one community, and we need to help each other out," she said.

For Brattleboro Area Mutual Aid, Heller had been sending out emails and posted on social media in search of community members in need of masks.

"Very few people got in touch," he said, describing himself as feeling unsure whether there is demand before setting up the tree.

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Heller said he put the project together in about one day. His neighbor Raylene Jackman painted the sign.

As of Monday, the Sewing Masks group reported that it made a total of 9,671 masks for institutions in the area. Jen Batty coordinated with Heller on getting masks for the tree. Ruth Houle and Suzie Walker have been putting masks on the tree.

The group accepts donations at ko-fi.com/sovtmasks.

"We are prioritizing getting fabric masks to people who act as vectors for the transmission of coronavirus, as well as people who work with elderly and immunocompromised people," the site states.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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