Local Native American artist Shana Lukinich and her daughter, Satiana “Tia” Foote, have produced and distributed over 2,000 free masks since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in Washington state.
“It started with helping my tribe, the Northern Arapaho in Wyoming, because they don’t have a whole lot out there,” Lukinich said. After sending about 500 masks, Lukinich posted on her personal Facebook page offering to make more.
“From there, it just kind of blossomed into something bigger,” she said.
A friend who works for United Airlines shared the offer on a flight attendant site and within an hour Lukinich and Foote had received 70 mask requests.
“It took about two days to turn out those masks,” Lukinich said. “I’d say one mask, start to finish, is anywhere between five and 10 minutes.”
Soon after, they received a message from an American Airlines flight attendant saying that the Washington D.C. Metro Hub Union President had directed her to Lukinich.
“From there, it spread like wildfire,” she said. “We’ve shipped masks pretty much every place within the United States, everywhere there’s a hub.”
They have donated masks to airline staff, frontline medical personnel, other essential workers and local community members, with specific sizing for children based on age and thicker designs with added protection for people who are immuno-compromised.
The masks come with free, 2 day Priority shipping; for March and April shipping costs reached $2,000.
“We have a drop box and a pick-up box and our postal lady knows us really well,” Lukinich said.
They print USPS shipping labels at home and schedule pick-ups online. They schedule pick-up times with locals as well.
“We do have a small donation box if someone wants to leave a donation, although it’s never a requirement and we make sure people know that,” she said.
Despite being quarantined at home since mid-March, the mother-daughter duo have been busier than ever.
“We get up in the morning and get to running. It’s nonstop,” Lukinich said. “We were getting 100 orders a day for a while. We’ve been literally sewing from 7 a.m. until 1 o’clock in the morning, and then we get up and repeat the whole process, on top of raising grandkids, keeping a house, and homeschooling at the same time.”
Lukinich has 10 grandchildren, five of whom live with her.
“We have these huge sheets of fabric that my daughter cuts and I sew in the midst of grandkids running around. So it gets a little interesting at times. Every once in a while I go outside and say, ‘I’m on a mandatory Washington state 15-minute break right now.’ ”
“There’s such a thing as seamstress shoulder,” Lukinich said, whose mom taught her to sew when she was 10 years old. “My hands are getting a little sore and tired. But it’s nothing a little Ben Gay can’t cure.”
In addition to the mask-making operation, Lukinich and Foote run two small businesses, 10 Buffalos Art and Little Foote Designs. Lukinich specializes in Native American art, embroidery and vinyl, and is looking at custom fabric options for masks featuring her original artwork.
“Our primary thing is usually craft and art fairs and pow wows and things like that, but because of social distancing and everything going on, those don’t exist right now,” Lukinich said. “I was part of the Oklahoma Indian Art Festival, which was an online event for my native art, so I was trying to balance online interviews and an online art show across the country, on top of making masks.”
Lukinich said this time was an opportunity to work more closely with her daughter than ever before, while providing a much-needed and appreciated public service.
“Every waking hour we’re constantly chitchatting back and forth,” she said. “You kind of have to roll with the punches. Everything evolves. Things change. That’s what I was taught and it’s a Native American way too, that you change with the circumstances or what Mother Earth does. Humans are supposed to change and adapt.
“Some people don’t believe in masks and that’s fine,” Lukinich said. “If people need them, we’re here. If they don’t, that’s OK too. We’re not going to stop until there’s no need.”