Profile: “Mask Lady”, Jackie Larson

Jackie Larson with her granddaughter making a mask in their sewing machine. Larson has been making free masks for the community since the beginning of the pandemic.

Contributed Photo

Jackie Larson with her granddaughter making a mask in their sewing machine. Larson has been making free masks for the community since the beginning of the pandemic.

Kellen Brandt, features reporter

Jackie Larson is known around town as the “Mask Lady.”

Larson has been making free masks for the community since the beginning of the pandemic.

Larson started by making masks for her family but upon realizing the community’s need, she started making masks for everyone.

Larson’s daughter worked at the Bluff Country Co-op downtown at the onset of the pandemic, so Larson decided to use what she had to make her a mask.

“I had not really done much sewing for years and I had a little bit of fabric and a little bit of elastic and thread, so I had enough to make a couple of masks at first,” Larson said.

Larson found an easy pattern online and started making her daughter a few masks for work.

“Well then I thought, she has coworkers, so I better make some for them too, so I did a bunch of masks for the co-op,” Larson said. “Then somebody said, ‘oh, you must have done 50 masks by now’ and I thought, ‘no, I don’t think so’, I started to count and yeah, I had done that, I thought ‘well that is crazy’.”

After Larson made the co-op masks, word started to travel. Soon, Larson was making masks and she started receiving requests on Facebook for masks.

Larson used anything she could find to make masks, from cotton shirts to bed sheets, because she had such a high demand for masks.

As demand slowed, Larson was able to make more fun and stylish masks for the community.

“If I can make somebody happy with a nice mask, I’m going to keep doing that,” Larson said.

Terrie Burbs, a community member, received masks from Larson early in the pandemic. She said Larson’s handiwork helped her husband get comfortable wearing masks.

“I contacted Jackie and asked about a mask with something racing on it because I thought if he had one that he liked, he’d feel more comfortable,” Burbs said. “She not only made that for him but also one for me and a second one for him. He loved both of them and finally started wearing one to work.”

One of Larson’s first big orders was Gordie’s Standard in Winona and they had reached out to Larson asking for 20 masks.

“Back then, it was hard. I would sew maybe 10 masks in a day and that was so hard,” Larson said.

Larson worked on her bigger orders but kept getting smaller orders as well. In the beginning, Larson had approximately 100 masks she was being asked to make.

“I really didn’t know if I could do it, so the commitment was a little scary, but I just thought I’m going to do it because I think it’s a need,” Larson said.

Larson has never charged for her masks, since she used materials from around her house in the beginning but as she made more masks, she ran out of materials. Larson reached out to the community and asked for help.

“It was hard because you don’t want to ask for help, nobody does,” Larson said.

The community response was abundant. Larson received a surplus of thread, elastic and material to make the masks with.

“I have not had to buy anything to make the masks and I still have plenty of materials,” Larson said. “It’s been really great the way the community has helped us so much by just donating those items.”

Larson received so much material she began making baby blankets out of the material for babies born during the pandemic.

“Just something to kind of use that material because I want to do good things,” Larson said.

Larson’s kindness has spread across the Winona community and helped countless individuals.

Olivia Lemieux, a Winona community member, is grateful to Larson and her mask-making skills due to her and her significant other’s need for masks during the pandemic.

“Around this time last year, we found out that my significant other would be going in for a kidney transplant which is extremely scary during a pandemic,” Lemieux said. “We needed plenty of masks for four days of doctor’s appointments leading up to transplant day and then enough to rotate out during his recovery staying near the hospital.”

Lemieux said her significant other needed a size they could not find early in the pandemic and worried as he would be in the hospital with a mask that did not fit properly.

“Then I heard about Jackie and her kind heart making masks for the community,” Lemieux said.

Lemieux reached out and asked for a few extra-large masks and within 12 hours, Larson had made him four.

Lemieux said Larson has made them numerous more since then as well.

“I know that she just thinks she made a couple of masks for a 20 some year-old guy, but in reality, she gave us a sense of security and safety during such a crazy, unpredictable time,” Lemieux said. “She has provided a great deal of masks for our community and her kindness of donating her time and resources is something we will forever be thankful for.”

Larson has made masks for individuals, families, nursing homes, hospitals and local businesses all around Winona.

Larson has made masks for the History Center for historical purposes, including a black mask with white lace in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

For Winona State student Brittany Thompson, a fourth-year nursing major doing community health clinicals through Bridges Health, a student-led faculty-guided clinic run by Winona State students, last semester and benefitted from Larson’s masks.

“My team reached out to Jackie requesting around 50 masks and she was more than willing to provide what we needed,” Thompson said. “We provided these masks and other health promotional materials to a neighborhood in need in Winona. She definitely made an impact on the health of this community and the rest of Winona.”

Larson has been able to connect with people all over Winona through her mask-making.

“Even though we’re socially distant, I feel like my world has just gotten bigger from this with all the community,” Larson said.

Larson does special orders as well as “fence days” where she makes themed masks for holidays or special occasions.

“They’re fun to do and people like to pick out their own masks,” Larson said. “I think people enjoy that a lot because the masks go really fast on those days.”

Since the start of her mask-making journey, Larson has made 8,000 masks for the Winona community.

Larson is taking a small break from her mask-making due to the passing of her father but plans to do a superhero-themed fence day soon in honor of her father.

“I’m going to have probably 500 masks for that fence day, and I’m going to dedicate it to my dad because he’s my hero, so I think that’ll be good,” Larson said.

Larson makes approximately 20 masks a day when the demand is high or she’s working on an upcoming fence day.

As the Winona community thanks Larson, Larson wants to thank her community as well.

“I would like to make sure and thank the community for helping me with this because they really did so much by donating materials,” Larson said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”