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Dawson County woman recognized for effort to spread free masks across the nation
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, local woman Shirley Hawkins has been made over a thousand homemade face masks and shipped them to recipients all over the United States and even overseas to Germany. (photo courtesy of Shirley Hawkins)

When the statewide shelter-in-place order took effect earlier this year, Dawson County resident Shirley Hawkins instantly knew what she needed to do with her time, and it wasn’t going to involve sitting on the couch watching Netflix all day. 

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Hawkins hasn't charged for the masks she's given away, and any donations she's been given have been put right back into buying fabric and postage. (photo courtesy of Shirley Hawkins)

As a person with an innate drive to be constantly on the go, Hawkins said that the thought of doing nothing for months on end wasn’t something she could cope with. 

“I had to have something to distract me,” she said.  

But as an avid quilter, with a lot of extra cloth and fabric on hand, Hawkins realized that her skills and stock of materials could be put to good use, and set to work making cotton face masks for people in her community. 

“I put it out there on Facebook that I was making the masks for free, so just let me know who needed them,” Hawkins said. “And since then that’s been the majority of my contacts have been through Facebook and people [messaging] me their addresses to send them to them.” 

In half a year Hawkins made more than 1,000 hand-sewed masks and distributed them to people all across the United States and even overseas. And every day, she still receives requests for more masks. 

“Some of the first masks I made were for the Dawson County Sheriff’s Department,” Hawkins said. “And since then I’ve sent them out to at least 25 states and I’ve even sent two to Germany because somebody I went to high school with became a Department of Defense teacher there.”

Despite putting so much time and effort into making the masks, Hawkins hasn’t charged for any of the masks that she’s made. Some of the mask recipients have given her donations, and she has put those donations directly back into her project. 

“I haven’t charged for masks,” Hawkins said. “Some people that can afford it have given me a donation, and those donations I have used to buy more fabric or to pay for postage.” 

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Recently, Hawkins was awarded a “spirit of service” award, in the form of a check made out to her favorite charity.Left to right: Kathy Edwards, Shirley Hawkins and Irene Mooney from the telecom pioneer Lennox club, presenting the check to Hawkins. (photo courtesy of Shirley Hawkins)

The recipients of Hawkin’s masks have been grateful for her efforts, and recently one of them decided to give something back for her generosity. 

“I’m what they call a telecom pioneer, so we are all people that have retired from either Southern Bell, Bellsouth or AT&T,” Hawkins said. “One of the ladies from the pioneers that I had made masks for called me several days after I sent her her masks and said that somebody had made an anonymous donation to their club, and she wanted to nominate me for the ‘spirit of service’ award.” 

The winner of the spirit of service award would receive a check from the donation, made out to their favorite charity. Club members voted, and Hawkins was awarded the check. 

“She submitted it to their club and they voted on it, and then they gave me a $1,000 check made out to my favorite charity, K.A.R.E. for Kids,” Hawkins said. “So this past Monday night I got to present the check to Rhonda Goodwin and Tiffany Buchan from K.A.R.E. for Kids.” 

Tiffany Buchan, executive director for K.A.R.E. for Kids, said that Hawkins’ generosity in naming K.A.R.E. for Kids as her favorite charity means a lot to the organization and will be able to help provide Christmas presents to local children through the charity’s Christmas program.

“With that $1000, we can easily buy six kids Christmas,” Buchan said. “So it just means so much to us.” 

The main source of income for K.A.R.E. for Kids’ Christmas program is the Mountain Moonshine Festival, which is held each year in October. This year, the event’s 53rd anniversary, will be different from past years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and increased safety regulations. Because of this, donations like Hawkins’ make even more of an impact, Buchan said.

“We’re still unsure what's going to happen with the festival, so every donation counts,” Buchan said.

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Hawkins gave the money to KARE for Kids. Left to right: Rhonda Goodwin, KARE for Kids president, Tiffany Buchan, KARE for Kids executive director, and Shirley Hawkins. (photo courtesy of Shirley Hawkins)

Hawkins says that she was not expecting the check to be as much as it was, but that she is hoping that it can help make a difference through K.A.R.E. for Kids. 

“When I found out how much it was for, I was flabbergasted,” Hawkins said. “And I’m just so grateful because this will go towards Christmas with K.A.R.E. for Kids.” 

Hawkins keeps getting requests for masks, and she doesn’t plan on stopping her project anytime soon.

“With the kids going back to school, I’m starting to get more requests for masks for teachers and kids, from college students down to elementary school,” Hawkins said. “I’ll keep doing this until I don’t need to do it anymore.”

Helping so many people in the community and all over the United States has helped her in turn to keep busy, according to Hawkins. 

“This has been my sane thing, because it’s either sit and watch TV all day or read a book or do something to get myself out of my head,” Hawkins said, “so that’s the way I went.”