Facebook Group Sews 'A Bridge Of Hope'
When the Pensacola Mask Sewers Facebook group was created three weeks ago, it was to help protect health-care workers with an alternative to the N95 mask used to treat COVID-19 patients.
More than 2,600 members joined the group and thousands of masks have been delivered to more than 58 agencies in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. When an N95 mask was unavailable, the thought was cloth masks could be used as a “best, worst-case scenario,” said Jess Patton, who started the group.
Now, as the CDC recommends that everyone wear a cloth mask in public settings to avoid the spread of coronavirus, the mask sewers are preparing for an even bigger need locally. Just this week, the group has received requests for 14,434 masks and that number goes up daily.
“I think we’re only at the bottom of our curve,” said Patton. “We’re preparing for a huge increase. We have 30 ‘admin’ people who are working in terms of logistics in how we’re going to meet the demand.”
Patton started the Facebook page three weeks ago while watching and reading the news. She saw the need for personal protective equipment and wanted to help.
“I’m not a seamstress, but I have a sewing machine and I’ve made one successful Halloween costume,” she said.
It’s a fairly easy pattern consisting of a 9-inch-by-16-inch rectangle of cotton and elastic. The masks have been made from donated materials. The group has accepted discarded fabrics from companies and from personal collections, including a grandmother’s cotton apron or a grandfather’s quilt.
“There’s stories behind some of the fabrics,” said Patton. “Families want to see those items go to people in need.”
As of Tuesday, the group has sewn 6,824 masks. Additionally, the group is working on sewing hospital gowns and face masks using donated H600 fabric, which is used in hospitals.
The CDC made its new recommendation Friday after recent studies reported that individuals with coronavirus can transmit the virus before showing symptoms. People interacting in close proximity have a higher chance of spreading through speaking, sneezing or coughing, which is why masks are recommended in public settings.
The Florida Department of Health-Escambia County advises following the CDC recommendation, adding that wearing a cloth face covering in public settings, like grocery stores and pharmacies, is a voluntary recommendation that can help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Originally, the group did not accept monetary donations, but with the growing demand they will be accepting money to pay for bulk orders of fabric, twill tape and elastic. Donations can be made on Venmo, Facebook, or over the phone at Fabric Zoo.
It’s a coordinated effort all done remotely. And it works really well. There are volunteers who are sewing, some are driving the donations, and people who are monitoring the active page. Some volunteers are stationed at the Fabric Zoo Monday through Friday cutting fabric according to the pattern and putting together kits for easy sewing.
“It’s dizzying,” Patton said. “It’s definitely a team effort. And it’s beautiful how we all have been able to come together.”
As coronavirus cases continue to rise in the state of Florida — and the U.S. — the sewers group has been a “real place of hope,” for those who want to help in a crisis.
“I get 15 to 20 messages a day saying ‘thank you for giving me something to focus on,’” said Patton. “And I think I needed this, too. I can’t imagine being a health-care worker right now. As someone with asthma, I can’t imagine getting this virus. It blows my mind to think of their bravery and willingness to risk their life to save mine.”
Patton likely couldn’t recognize most of the group members if she ran into them in public. But she feels connected to each of them. She’s spent hours on the phone with them and chatted online. She’s seen their photos of finished masks piled proudly in their homes, and of the assembly lines families made to get the masks done.
Whenever it’s safe to gather, Patton said she wants to have a big party and meet members in person.
“I’ve already thought of that day, even though I don’t know when it’s going to be,” she said. “I want to hold on to this feeling that we are all united. We are all in this together.”
That connection is felt for the recipients of the masks. After each donation is dropped off, Patton may notice a “thank you” selfie. Sometimes, she recognizes a mask she’s made. Some members in the group have even started putting notes in their masks to add a personal touch.
But what’s more personal than a handmade gift that could help save your life?
“It’s a real gift to the person who’s made it and the person using it,” said Patton. “It brings tears to your eyes. We want to be a bridge of hope.”