Inspired by a project started by artists in Prague, Sara Robinson adopted the "mask tree" idea and implemented it in her hometown of San Anselmo. She's seen her hanging free face masks on a tree downtown. (Photo courtesy of Suellen Lamorte)

It’s no secret that since the start of the pandemic there has been an overwhelming need for face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) in the United States and around the world. So when artists in Prague, Czech Republic heard about the shortage, the creatives worked together to sew a bunch of masks, before hanging them on trees across the city, intended for passersby in need. 

Dr. Larry Brilliant, a Mill Valley epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox and an avid mask-wearing advocate, read about the Prague artists’ initiative and cited it in a June speech to the Marin County Commission on Aging. 

When Sara Robinson, a chairwoman for Age-Friendly San Anselmo, heard Brilliant mention the helpful project during his hour-long talk, she was inspired and decided to take action. And thus, the “mask tree” concept traveled from Prague to Marin County. 

On June 19, Robinson, along with Age-Friendly San Anselmo representative and city resident Suellen Lamorte, set up two mask trees downtown after the city closed its main drag to weekend auto traffic in order for local restaurants and retailers to sell food and wares outside to the public.

And the response has been positive with residents, both young and old, partake in the free face coverings.

Anyone who needs one, said Robinson, can remove a plastic-wrapped mask from a tree and use it to protect themselves (and others) from potential exposure to the virus.

Robinson works with local donors to restock masks, intended for those in need, and hangs the face coverings from trees and shrubs every Friday . (Photo courtesy of Sara Robinson)

The project has resulted in more than 360 masks taken and used by diners, shoppers and walkers over the last seven weekends. Most masks disappear quickly each Friday, with a few leftovers removed by homeless individuals. 

Robinson, who pays for many face masks herself, has received 200 free masks from San Rafael’s Whistlestop and is seeking additional donors. 

Before hanging the masks, the 56-year-old gerontologist washes them, dries them in the sun and, with gloved hands, seals them in plastic bags.

Since starting the project, Robinson has added two shrubs to the mask tree rotation and has plans to use the town hall lawn and Imagination Park to further the initiative.

Spurred on by a Brilliant’s presentation, in which the doctor stated that we could quash the virus if at least 80 percent of people wore masks at least 80 percent of the time, Robinson will continue hanging masks in trees and shrubs in order to help protect her community for as long as she can.