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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Debbie Luckett's Mask Mission: Making Fun Masks for FTIS Students for In-Person Instruction

Debbie Luckett poses with some of her donated masks outside the FTIS on Wednesday morning.
(Img: FTM file)

By Jessie Eden

One Fort Thomas resident is doing her part to make sure Fort Thomas Independent School students have access to the masks they need to return to in-person instruction. On Wednesday, she graciously donated 175 cotton masks to Dr. Karen Chester with FTIS.

Making Masks That Work

Debbie Luckett has been making hundreds of handmade, cotton masks since April. What initially started as an effort to provide for health care workers in need of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has now turned into a mission.

With her background in healthcare at Tri-Health and her husband's job in a Covid unit at St. Elizabeth Fort Thomas, Debbie quickly realized that the need for masks that properly served the medical community's needs during the Covid-19 pandemic was very real. "In the beginning, the pattern was changing and I work at Tri-Health and I was watching a video with the Chief Officer panicking about PPE and asking the community to make masks. They even released an approved mask design and then I found another design from St. E. I combined the two of them to create something that the medical community could really use and that sealed up properly. It was important to me to find a design that actually worked for them."

The masks feature three layers of cotton, per St. Elizabeth's recommendations.

Debbie says that creating the masks has been good process for her. "It's been therapeutic for me. I have a nursing background and my husband is a respiratory therapist and initially, the medical community is who I started making them for...but I couldn't even keep up with orders in April and May. Then, by June, it was more of the public looking for masks because they were mandated, I believe. The process has evolved since the purpose is different. I just felt like it was a good cause and it was needed. I felt kind of bad knowing I was a seamstress and not making masks...but I hadn't had my sewing machine out in 15 years, I thought I'd be doing this for a couple weeks in April. Now it's September and we're still in need. It's been interesting!"

The Evolution of the Mask Design

In those early days in April, Debbie was getting nearly 60 orders for masks as her design kept evolving. "Early on, there was a fit test with some local universities and they looked at the filtration material. Some people were using coffee filters, it was kind of crazy for awhile, but then they kind of just came up with 3 layers of cotton being the safest and you're not breathing in particles you shouldn't be. The N95 masks are about 95 percent effective, the surgical masks are 80 percent and the fabric masks with three layers of cotton are still around 75 to 79 percent effective."

This is the info that Debbie used to figure out the best options for the mask material.

So, Debbie got to work and now it's become quite the past time. "I just thought 'well, I'm gonna crank them out' and over time, I started making them smaller, started cutting them differently. When you look at ones I initially made, they're huge and were getting into people's eyes. It's really the Evolution of the Mask," said Debbie.

But, as time went on, a good problem was suddenly on our hands -- the market has become flooded with PPE. There have been so many masks made that Debbie needed to figure out where to donate some of the masks she had made. "It's funny, I got onto a group called Mask Makers Unite and we all have the same questions about stuff, one question was "Where can I donate?" The market is flooded, people are not buying them like they were."

Donating Masks To Students

That's when Debbie reached out to Superintendent Dr. Karen Cheser at FTIS to see if they had a need for masks...and they most certainly did. "She was very appreciative! Dr. Cheser said they would love to have them. I had been trying to have as many as possible to drop off by today, I've been working frantically and ended up getting them 175 masks. I also plan to get some more over to them soon!"

And FTIS will gladly take them off Debbie's hands. Dr. Cheser said that in talking with other superintendents, there was a unique mask problem on their hands -- the masks districts bought just weren't the ones that students wanted to wear.

"This is a valuable solution for our District and there's no doubt that these masks will be put to good use for our students and staff," said Assistant Superintendent Bill Bradford. "We are thrilled to be able to accept this generous donation."

Thankfully, Debbie's designs have some fun flair to them. "My masks feature a variety of fabrics and in the beginning I did really plain stuff for the health care people but now, they I have everything from sports designs to Spongebob, Minions, even pink flamingos. Dr. Cheser said, for the kids, the surgical masks were boring to wear but now the kids are going to love them."

"Debbie's passion for our District is going to be an incredible asset for us," said Dr. Cheser. "Her masks are not only approved by health standards, but kids are going to love them. Being able to pick out a mask that shows their personality will no doubt make in-person learning with our new guidelines easier for everyone involved."

A 1,001 Mask Milestone...and More on the Way

In addition to going out of her way to do something nice, Debbie has made a big impact with the pure number of masks she has designed. "I hit 1,001 yesterday since April 1st!" said Debbie. "The other thing I did was I realized I could put some masks outside of my house for people to take. So, I put 15, individually wrapped masks outside right when they mandated the masks. So far, no one has cleaned the box out and even some people have donated money so I can make more."

Stop by Rossford Ave if you need a mask!

And Debbie certainly plans on making more, especially since recent comments from CDC officials mention that masks may be needed for another year or so. "I am so used to doing it now, like what am I going to do with myself when I stop making masks?!" said Debbie. "When they get cut out, it's a triangular shape so now I have all this scrap fabric of triangular I thought, well nowI can make patchwork masks!"

If you'd like to learn more about Debbie Luckett's mask mission, feel free to stop by Rossford Avenue and pick one up or donate to the cause or email her at

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