With the coronavirus causing shortages of protective equipment for front-line workers, local residents are joining volunteers across the nation to create homemade masks.
“I wish there was more we could do,’’ said John Sharp, of Hopwood. “I guess every little bit helps.’’
“I can only do 15 to 20 at a clip,’’ said Wendy Travalena, of Perryopolis. “But that’s 15 to 20 people who feel better.’’
Local residents began making masks as COVID-19 struck Pennsylvania and word of shortages began being reported nationwide.
Volunteers are sending masks directly to nursing homes or doctor’s offices, and to family, friends and acquaintances who work or know someone in the healthcare industry or essential services, such as stores or who haul garbage. Some are also sending to individuals who worry about their health. Many are letting it be known the masks are available and responding to requests.
Sharp, a Laurel Highlands High School math teacher, and his wife, Terri, a speech language pathologist for Amedisys Home Health, are working with their mothers Tonye Sharp and Carol Ashton.
“Terri saw something on Facebook about someone in the state of Washington making masks, and she got on YouTube and it showed how to do it. We got fabric and started,’’ said Sharp.
Travalena, a nurse for Fayette County Community Action’s Nurse Family Partnership, was encouraged to do the project by her friend, Rita Petrus, of Smock, a retired nurse from Nurse Family Partnership.
“I just wanted to pay it forward,’’ said Petrus, who had already made 100 masks. “I feel this is my way to give back.’’
Donna Eicher, of Vanderbilt, who owns Sew Special in North Union Township with her husband, Rick, put out her own Facebook post asking for volunteers after being approached by Muriel Nuttall, Fayette Chamber of Commerce executive director, about organizing a volunteer effort.
Nuttall made the request after hearing about a need, including requests from local nursing homes and home care agencies. Eicher submitted a pattern that was approved by health officials.
“The response has been overwhelming,’’ said Eicher. “They are compassionate and generous and want to help in whatever way they can.’’
Eicher gave away materials but noted some customers insisted on paying as part of the effort to support small businesses.
Working on their own at home, volunteers began bringing masks to Sew Special March 25 and Eicher delivered more than 100 to the chamber. She expected volunteers to continue bringing in masks.
Nuttall was happy to accept them and said five more nursing homes had made requests. She advised anyone wanting to make them to communicate with Eicher.
Nuttall said masks can be dropped off between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays at the chamber office in Uniontown. Volunteers should call first.
While masks can be made in a short time, the biggest obstacle is acquiring some of the materials, especially elastic. Some volunteers were waiting on orders. Some are contacting friends and family to see if they have supplies. Eicher said volunteers are also making masks that can be tied.
They are happy to help.
Amy Hess, of Connellsville, who performs wildlife work for the federal government, has sewed for charitable projects throughout her life.
“I’ve made port pillows with my mom for chemotherapy patients so when they ride in a car, it doesn’t hurt their port. I’ve made fun pillowcases for Children’s Hospital,’’ Hess said. “Anytime, I can, I love to help.’’
Hess noted, “That could be me in the hospital being sick. It’s always the nurses taking care of you, and I’d like to help them in any way I can.’’
Georgianna Carter, of Point Marion, who is retired, said, “It’s a horrible time for everybody. This keeps me calm. My anxiety is through the roof. I want to help in any way I can.’’
Carter added, “I’m going to keep making them until I run out of fabric or people don’t need them anymore.’’
Nuttall said, “This community is incredibly giving. There’s never a time when there’s a need that there’s not been a response. That’s what Fayette County is - good people. We’re using the hashtag Fayette United because it’s people coming together to help neighbors. That’s what it’s about.’’