Sewing for safety: Locals contribute to mask-making efforts
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As COVID-19 cases have mushroomed to more than 234,000 in the U.S. as of Thursday, an ugly outcome and likely perpetrator of the virus’ spread has come to light: an extreme shortage of necessary personal protective equipment for those on the frontlines of combating the virus and essential workers whose duties have them consistently interacting with the public.
A growing number of Routt County residents are dedicating their time in quarantine to help fill the void by sewing face masks in their homes.
Amie Simmons hadn’t touched a sewing project in years, but when she saw friends in Nashville posting about sewing masks for their communities on Facebook, she figured there was likely a local need, as well. So she pulled up a YouTube video of how to thread a sewing machine, and she and her two teenage daughters got to work, assembly-line style.
Their focus is level 1, double-ply cotton masks for members of the general public. So far, Simmons estimates she’s made a few hundred masks, which have been donated to the Routt County Council on Aging, residents of the Selbe Apartments, Snow Bowl employees, City Market employees and neighbors who are elderly or who interact with elderly family members.
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“It helps to change your perspective, when you’re serving someone else,” she said.
Simmons has also been coordinating with other local mask makers and organizing donations of mask-making materials.
“Every time I open my front door, there’s (a donation) on my porch,” she said.
To increase their output, the Simmons household seamstresses also borrowed a second sewing machine from Steamboat Creates’ loaner program.
“This project is providing people with a positive way to contribute to our community and keep those who are not able to observe the stay-at-home measures safe as they continue to serve our community,” said Steamboat Creates Program Director Sylvie Piquet. “Being able to provide interested volunteers with a useful project as well as being able to connect participating volunteers virtually with each other feels like movement in the right direction in a time when isolation and mental and physical health is so threatening.”
Joey Kay, who ran the Steamboat Curtain Factory, has been sewing, knitting and embroidering for decades. She self-isolated at home early into the pandemic and estimates that she’s sewn 200 to 300 masks so far.
“I sew all the time, anyway,” she said. “(Making masks) keeps my mind busy.”
• ¼-inch elastic
• Cotton material (bed sheets, pillow cases, etc.)
• Sewing machines
Kay’s masks have gone to Natural Grocers employees, Steamboat Springs Transit workers and everyone in her condo block. She’s also sent some to her daughter in Connecticut and friends in Florida. Her masks are lined in soft flannel and can be spotted a mile away.
“They’re all wonderful colors,” she said. “The colors make doing this much more fun.”
Much of the volunteer efforts in homemade mask making have been coordinated on the Routt Responds Facebook page, which features content related to general resources and needs of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To consolidate and streamline mask-making efforts, Courtney Diehl created a new Facebook group — Routt County Sewing for Health Workers — on Wednesday, April 1. The group will also make masks for high-risk workers.
All three mask-makers are firm in not accepting money for their masks.
“People keep wanting to pay me, but I say, ‘No, that’s not what this is about,’” Kay said.
“This is a way to give back to the community,” Simmons said.
“They’re never going to be for sale,” Diehl added.
All three also acknowledge the fact that home-sewn masks, which block 50% to 80% of airborne droplets containing the virus and protect both the mask wearer and others, are less effective than the ideal, manufactured N95 masks.
If you’re interested in getting involved with mask making efforts or donating materials,
join the Facebook group, Routt County Sewing for Health Workers, or contact Steamboat Creates’ Sylvie Piquet at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“At first I wondered, ‘am I putting people in jeopardy (by giving them a sense of safety)?’” Simmons said. “But what sealed the deal for me is: anything is better than nothing.”
“Eighty percent (protection) is certainly more effective than zero percent,” Diehl said.
Diehl emphasizes there are ways for anyone, regardless of sewing experience, to pitch into mask-making efforts. People can offer to cut fabric into squares and deliver them to sewing volunteers; they can also take a look around their homes and see if they have materials that can be donated to the supply chain.
“I’d love to get to the point where we can give a mask to everyone who needs one,” Diehl said. “It’s going to take a community effort to get there.”
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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