Cloth masks are being recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), not so much to protect an individual from getting the coronavirus (COVID-19), but to help limit the possibility of transmission from an individual who may be coughing, sneezing, or even speaking. Masks are also a good reminder and way of preventing people from touching the T-zone — that zone about the face that includes the eyes, nose and mouth.

As most people know, masks, like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, are difficult to find and on backorder with limited supplies.

The town of Mulberry has decided neither to wait on suppliers nor the government, taking matters into their own hands to protect their citizens.

Currently, the community has seven women making face masks for Mulberry citizens, using material they either already had or bought. Some are cutting out fabric material or cutting out the fusible interfacing.

The interfacing is the extra layer that gives finished garments shape and support in detailed areas. It is necessary for putting the finishing touches on the masks and it aids in keeping the mask crisp through repeated washings and wearings. Mayor Baxter and his wife bought the interfacing and rubber bands.

Some of the women are ironing on the interfacing, including the pipe cleaner for the nose piece. Some are sewing it all together for a complete mask.

The mayor described the process. “You’ve got two pieces of 6x11 fabric, the interfacing, which is the filter, and the rubber bands on the ends. They ladies put the pieces together, with a pipe cleaner in there for the nose piece, iron it, stick it in their sewing machines and then you’ve got a mask.”

The mayor said they need more people to iron on the fusible interfacing and more people to sew. Baxter asks those interested to text (479) 462-2108 or email mayor@cityofmulberry.

If you live in Mulberry (or have a 72947 zip code) and do not have a face mask, Baxter states to text or email him as well, but do not message him on Facebook because he may not see it or respond. Provide him with your name and address.

Baxter said, “I will contact you back and will provide masks as the supply lasts. We’re a small community, so we can probably do this. A larger community will need more people helping.”

The mayor has been personally delivering masks or making arrangements for delivery.

Baxter said, “Our goal is to provide every citizen with a free face mask to wear when they are away from their home to grocery shop or go to the pharmacy, etcetera. It is a project we feel people can do for themselves without depending on the government for their protection. We are stressing following the CDC guidelines.”

Kay Baxter seconded her husband’s statement, saying, “We want every person in Mulberry to have a mask.”

The mayor said, “We’re doing it for mulberry residents. We’d like for other towns to follow our example and take care of their people.”

Mulberry Community Food Pantry

Volunteers, including the Baxters, were handing out food donations from Mulberry’s soon-to-be new food pantry on Tuesday. As a matter of fact, they were trying to put the new sign up Tuesday, only to discover it needed a slight adjustment. The sign should be up before long if it hasn’t already been placed.

The mayor said, “We are operating our new Mulberry Community Food Pantry even before it is officially opened because of the need. We have provided fresh fruit to residents at our drive-thru.”

River Valley Regional Food Bank (RVRFB) of Fort Smith donated 147 cases of Red Delicious apples. There were 1,765 three-pound bags (5,295 pounds).

As some Mulberry citizens were walking by the corner of Hwy. 64 and Church Ave., the volunteers were calling out to them, even crossing the ditch and street to hand people bags of apples.

Kay said, “Today we have about 80 cases of apples that we will be giving out in three-pound bags to our residents.”

The apples were being given away for free, yet some residents walked in to say hi, keeping their distance except to donate money to help the cause.

The pantry intended on having a second giveaway on Friday. Mayor Baxter announces the dates and times on his personal Facebook page to inform residents of the Mulberry region, asking they share the information. It applies to those with a 72947 zip code, the same requisite for obtaining a face mask.

Alice Mainer said, “We’re just getting started. This is our second give out.”

The food pantry is in the former fellowship hall of what was once an Apostolic Church. The hall has been converted with the addition of walls, refrigeration and freezer units as well as shelves to stock canned goods and other items. The city bought the building, which had been unused for three or four years.

Once the pantry is up and running, Mainer will be the director with 10-12 workers working with her. The pantry’s official opening and operation has been placed on hold due to COVID-19 preventing Mainer and her volunteers from obtaining the training they need to get certified through RVRFB to comply with both the state USDA guidelines.

Mainer said, “The girls who are going to be doing the paperwork need this training.”

For now, they have to wait it out, but at least they are receiving some food to help the community of 1,600 or so. Currently, there are 10-12 volunteers assisting with the food distribution. One of those volunteers is Alice’s husband Donnie.

Kay said, “We’re in a low-to-moderate income town. Food is prepared at the school. We’re feeding children two meals per day with the buses running. We’re trying to help every way we can.”

The pantry also has a few shelves filled with canned goods, courtesy of the annual Boy Scouts of America annual Scouting for Food food drive, which they donated to RVRFB. The food bank distributes donations to 170 member agencies in an eight-county coverage area. RVRFB also serves senior citizen centers, soup kitchens and youth programs.

Mulberry Public Works Director Jim Julian said, “I think it’s wonderful. It’s going to help a lot of people and Mulberry needs it.The mayor looks after his people.”

As far as the Public Works Department goes, Julian said everyone has been good about keeping their distance, following guidelines, and they know to stay home if they’re sick or go home if they start feeling bad. Fortunately for the small screw, there have been no layoffs or furloughs.

Regarding both the food and the masks as COVID-19 carries on disrupting lives, Kay said, “It’s full time production right now.”