Finding certainty in the face of uncertainty

By Pearl Benjamin | May 05, 2020

If someone had told me three months ago that, come spring, I’d be working in a full time unpaid administrative manufacturing job I would’ve had a good laugh. I’m not totally sure how this warehouse across town took hold of my life so quickly, but here I am. I spend every day snipping fabric, boxing face masks and ordering people around. Honestly, I’ve never been more obsessed with a job. The Midcoast Pop-Up PPE Factory is now a beacon of light for activists around Camden. Here, we’re finally able to make a difference.

I first heard of the factory through my mother, who had already been sewing cloth masks for weeks. She told me there was a group of volunteers who were mass-producing face masks in downtown Camden and that she wanted to donate her own masks to their customers. Desperately in need of something to keep me busy, I went with her to check out the operation in early April. At that point there were no more than four volunteers cutting fabric at a few wobbly folding tables. The building itself was still very much a warehouse– the few sewing machines and packaging stations were surrounded by mountains of cardboard boxes and bags of clothes for a local charity group. The assembly line seemed hastily thrown together, but the volunteers were all in good spirits and excited to show us around. Michael Mullins, the founder of the organization, introduced us to his team and explained their system.

I told Michael I was ready to help when he needed me, so he put me to work that day. I spent the afternoon gluing parts onto mask-making kits and thoroughly enjoying myself. Mindless labor is my favorite form of meditation. Finally, I felt like I was doing something truly proactive for my community during the pandemic. I was done feeling helpless.

It didn’t take long for me to insert myself into the factory’s leadership team, which, prior to my arrival, only consisted of Michael. I was appointed volunteer coordinator, and assumed the role of nagging our diligent workers. I scheduled, I emailed, I kept track of take-home mask kits, I created spreadsheets. I also learned a few new skills: my mom re-taught me how to sew, so I came into work every morning with a handful of new products. Slowly, my responsibilities began to encompass every part of the factory, from shipping orders to training new recruits. I watched the factory change shape with each passing week. The assembly line increased in efficiency and orders ballooned. We now have as many as eight eager volunteers working every day, and ship out hundreds of masks per week. The PUPPE, lovingly referred to as “the puppy,” has supplied essential workers, small businesses, healthcare workers and at-risk community members. We’re constantly changing our approach and design to make sure we’re helping as many people as we possibly can.

A month into this new job, I now work in almost every part of the mask-making operation here at the PUPPE. I process orders as soon as they come in off our online order form and get them into the hands of our customers. I show new volunteers around and set them up with materials. I track the mask-making kits that go out to home stitchers and return as finished masks. I also have the incredible opportunity to learn from our many skilled volunteers. Karla Doremus-Tranfield and Justice Yanik taught me how to cut, assemble and sew our disposable mask design from start to finish. Michael is constantly teaching me how to run large-scale operations and increase production. Home sewers like Susan Harris teach me about the best ways to handle our materials so that our expert sewers can create high quality products. I’m acquiring skill sets I never knew I needed and it’s purely due to the generous nature of our hardest workers.

Midcoast PUPPE is a perfect example of how communities can come together in the face of a crisis. We’re not working for pay and we’re not selling our masks for a profit. We’re here because this is what activists do in the face of a challenge. We may be living in dark, uncertain times, but I’m glad to be part of a team that provides a constant sense of purpose.

The PUPPE website is and the Facebook page is here.

Pearl Benjamin is a student at the Watershed School.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 05, 2020 14:48

Wondering yesterday why we hadn't heard from Ms Benjamin for awhile. Now we see why. Another encouragement for the future of our world and a lesson for us all: Do what is placed before you. KUDOS!!

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