Fort Polk Family makes masks together as community project

Angie Thorne | Guardian Staff Writer

FORT POLK, La. — The Bell Family are members of the Fort Polk community. 

That sense of community is important to them, according to Courtney Bell. Bell and her spouse, Spc. James Bell, 46th Engineer Battalion, homeschool their children, and as part of the curriculum, they wanted their kids to perform a community project.  

“We want to teach them that to be part of a community, they need to help that community. We are trying to instill good values in them,” she said.

Bell said they left the choice of what project to the children. 

“Making masks for the Soldiers and Families of Fort Polk was my children’s idea,” she said.

As a result, Antonio, 9, Gabriel, 5 (he will be 6 next month) and Christopher, 4, work with their mother to make different sized masks with varying designs, depending on who will wear the mask. 

“We make masks for Soldiers, moms, dads, boys and girls,” said Bell.

Bell said part of the motivation for making the masks came from a desire to see their extended family. 

“We are from Texas and we normally spend Easter there with our Family. We couldn’t go this year because of the stay-at-home-order,” she said.

Bell said her children were disappointed they couldn’t visit. She and James had to explain — in a way her young children could understand — why they couldn’t make the trip this year. 

“We told them that people were in danger of getting sick because of the coronavirus and we had to stay home to stay safe and keep others safe,” she said. 

Her boys took that information and in their minds came up with the solution of making the masks to not only help keep people from getting sick, but to also make it safe for them to visit their Family in Texas again.

Other than missing family visits in Texas, Bell said her kids are just like everyone else in that they feel a bit caged in at times due to the stay-at-home order. However, she said a positive in this situation is more time with their dad.

“My boys are over the moon that their dad is home so much right now. So, though we have to work to stay safe, we have more time to spend together. That’s a positive in such a challenging situation,” she said.

In addition to fulfilling a community project goal, Bell said her kids are learning skills they that will come in handy.

“They are learning about sewing, ironing, measuring and more. My husband took them outside to teach them how to read a measuring tape correctly to a 16th of an inch. That helped them measure the material so it would be correct depending on the different sizes for each mask,” she said.

Bell said she and her boys had a little assembly line going while making the masks and, with practice, were getting faster at making them.

“I did the actual sewing and gave each of my boys a job based on their capabilities. My oldest, Antonio, cuts the pattern and pins the cloth together. Gabriel cuts the strips that tie the mask on your face and the littlest, Christopher, helps out where he can. He just likes to have fun and be part of everything,” she said. 

Bell said she has had special requests for their masks.

“We’ve had Fort Polk Families and units contact us and ask us to make their masks,” she said. 

In addition, the Bell Family has a goal to make masks for the larger Fort Polk community and leave them at Fort Polk’s Army Community Service building, 920 Bell Richard Ave., for people to pick up.

“We are going to attempt to drop off at least seven masks of each kind we make at ACS each Monday,” she said.   

Clarence Harmonson, ACS director, said the opportunity to support a military spouse and her children’s endeavor to ensure Fort Polk Soldiers and Family members remain protected during the COVID-19 pandemic is a blessing. 

“Individuals requesting protective masks are delighted when they see the assortment of patterns available in the Bell Family’s children and adult-sized masks,” Harmonson said. “Kids love wearing the tot-sized masks because they’re adorned with the familiar faces of their favorite characters; Soldiers are grateful to obtain cloth face-coverings that adhere to Department of Defense guidance and are free-of-charge. The attention to detail and great amount of care that Courtney Bell, her spouse, James, and their sons, Antonio, Gabriel, Christopher, put into creating each mask is highly apparent and sincerely appreciated.” 

Bell said she feels no gesture is too small in a situation like this and is proud of the boys because she feels they are making a positive difference.

“We feel like we are doing our small part to help keep people safe,” she said.