Royal Oak tree sprouts free masks for neighbors

Darlene A. White
Special to The Detroit News

Need a mask, take a mask.

That's why Karen Sayles in March began making the face coverings and hanging them on a tree in front of her home in Royal Oak.

Karen Sayles hangs free face masks on her Japanese maple in her yard in Royal Oak.  Neighbors in need to pick up a free mask every morning.

Already a quilter, she had almost everything she needed except a pattern for the masks and elastic. She found the patterns online and she devised a way to make the ties from the same material as the masks or in different colors. 

"I can sew, and why not use this talent to help my neighbors,” she said.

Now she's on a mission to help her neighbors stay safe during the pandemic with the free masks. 

“With so many people out of work and no money coming in, I feel guilty asking people for money for a gift that I want to give them." 

Sayles hangs between 20 and 22 masks each day. She puts out her latest batch at about 7 a.m. everyday and then posts a notice on the Next-Door app. 

Anywhere from 20 to 22 homemade masks hang from the tree each morning. “Sometimes the people are already here and waiting for me to step away from the tree," she says.

“Sometimes the people are already here and waiting for me to step away from the tree," she said. "I have met so many fine people who are just happy to not be sick and thankful to be able to have a mask.”

It doesn’t take long for the masks to disappear after she makes the announcement on social media.

“The tree is always empty by 9:30 in the morning,” she said. “The fastest time was two weeks ago, when I put out 22 masks. I called it 'Patriotic Mask Days.' It took only 17 minutes for the tree to be emptied."

Sherryl Wolak DiFalco of Royal Oak said she is inspired by Sayles and has started her own acts of kindness because of her.

“So many people have benefited from Karen’s kindness and generosity, and they are all so grateful,” said DiFalco. “She has kept these people safe." 

Dana Murray said without the tree of masks, she would not be able to shop for her family.

“Nowadays, certain stores will not allow you to shop without some sort of mask, and I did not have a mask or a scarf, said Murray of Ferndale.

Sayles said her reward is how grateful neighbors seem to be as they pluck masks from the tree.

“My greatest joy is to see people smiling and waving thank yous,” she said.

She has advice for others who wonder how to help or who struggle to stay positive during the pandemic.

“Smile and do something good for someone else," Sayles said. "Be kind to your neighbor.”

Karen Sayles of Royal Oak sews coronavirus masks at her home in  Royal Oak. Karen is making mask on her sewing machine and hanging them the branches of a Japanese Maple tree in her front yard for any neighbors in need to pick up every morning for free.