Dozens of Napans are turning to a new way to help fight COVID-19, and it includes a needle, thread and a sewing machine.
As word spreads about the shortage of hospital masks, these locals are making fabric face masks – dozens at a time — for frontline first responders, health care workers and anyone else who needs such protection.
This grassroots effort is occurring as the U.S. rethinks its mask policy. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to wear nonmedical masks, including those made at home, when out in public.
This will help prevent the spread of COVID-19, while preserving the supply of higher-quality masks for the personnel who really need them.
One of the locals joining the public health crusade is Andrea D. Hoogendoorn, owner of Mad Mod Shop in Calistoga. “Whenever anything happens, I look for what I can do to help,” she said.
Hoogendoorn, who also designs her own line of clothing, said she recently made a batch of fabric masks for her husband and other family members.
“I just wanted to be able to help my local community,” she said. “And I can sew, and I have scraps from my designs,” she said.
After noticing some local postal workers without masks, she handed out a few to those employees.
The small business owner found a mask pattern online and has since made about 25 of the face coverings.
Hoogendoorn and other sewers said one obstacle they’ve come up against is finding more elastic for the masks. She was able to find some at a local drugstore and pilfered more from her grandmother’s basket of notions.
She also added a blog post to her website featuring a tutorial about how to make masks.
“I’ve got the skill — I’m doing it,” she said. “Makers gonna make,” Hoogendoorn said with a laugh.
Queen of the Valley Medical Center is one organization that is accepting donations of masks and other personal protective equipment, but with a caveat.
“We deeply appreciate the kind offers we’ve received from individuals and families to donate boxes of masks and other materials,” said a statement from the Queen.
“Caregivers may wear their own cloth or personally-sourced masks as long as they are not caring for patients in isolation,” said a statement.
“While we accept all donations, including homemade masks, to keep our caregivers safe, we follow strict requirements about the donated masks condition and manufactured specifications,” the hospital said. “Upon receipt each donation is inspected and evaluated and masks that cannot be used in our clinical setting may be given to other organizations as appropriate.”
Frances Brady, 89, of Napa is another of Napa’s mask makers.
When the COVID-19 pandemic came to Napa, “I kept thinking, ‘What could I do to help?’” said Brady.
“I do like to sew,” said Brady, “And I got the idea I could help out and make these masks.”
“So far I’ve only made about a dozen, but I have a lot of them cut out,” said Brady. “I can just zip through them.”
“I’ve been in the house now for two weeks,” she noted. “It gives me something to do. I love it.”
Brady said at first she used a pattern that her granddaughters found online.
“And then I wasn’t quite happy with it, so I made my own,” said Brady, whose masks are reversible and made of cotton fabric leftover from quilting projects.
“I’ve been stashing them away,” said Brady. “And if I need more, I’ll get more.”
Using social media, Hanh Ho Egan, a local seamstress, offered free masks that she has made for anyone in need.
“I just want to do something,” said Ho Egan. “It’s not the N95 mask, but something’s better than nothing.”
It’s hard to find protective masks in stores today, she noted. “In my country, Vietnam, they are making masks, and I just copied what they do.”
To her surprise, people love her masks, she said. After assembling about 50, she’s already making more.
“These are really protective masks” that are well made, said her husband Jerry Egan. Not only does it help the wearer, but “I think it makes other people feel better” to see others wearing masks.
Napan Suzy Solomon said she’s made masks to give to her church. They have since been distributed to an acute recovery center in Fairfield, the Salvation Army in Oakland and to the Napa County Sheriff.
“I like to sew, and right now it makes for a nice thing to do,” said Solomon. “It’s helpful (and) better than just sitting here and doing nothing.”
She’s also using a pattern from the internet, but “I keep trying to make a way to make them quicker and use less elastic,” because the stretchy material is hard to find right now.
Solomon said she’s not going out very much these days, but when she does, “I’m going to be wearing a mask.”
Working on the masks is a good way to avoid worrying too much about COVID-19, she said.
“Doing something that’s helpful makes me feel a little bit better about having to stay around at home.”
Molly Silcox, owner of Nostalgia of Napa on Second Street, said after reading about the shortage of personal protective equipment for hospital workers, “I went into the shop and sat down and started making covers for their N95 masks, so they don’t have to throw them away.”
Over the past three weeks, she and several others have made about 600 masks. “I have a crew of people who are helping,” said Silcox. “We’re cranking these things out.”
The small business owner said it’s natural for her to try and help. “When something is wrong, I just say, move over, I’ll fix it. I don’t think we can fix this, but at least we can help.”
Since Napa no longer has a dedicated fabric store, some mask makers have contacted the Broadway Quilts shop in Sonoma for mask patterns, interfacing, fabric and other supplies.
“We have a pattern we’re providing” – one that uses ties instead of elastic, said Gery Rosemurgy, the business owner.
“People are making them and dropping them off, and then I’m getting requests” from hospitals, first responders and others in need.
So far she’s been able to donate about 200 masks. Another 200 are going to firefighters in Alameda.
“I’m getting calls and orders every day,” Rosemurgy said. “People are making all kinds of different masks,” but the pattern she’s distributing can fit over an N95 mask or be worn by itself. And of course, they are reusable.
Rosemurgy commented about the number of quilters and sewers rising to the occasion during this pandemic.
“It does not surprise me at all that sewers are jumping on making masks for people.” These are good people, keeping busy and doing something good, she said. “It’s good for everybody.”
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