Masking the pandemic problem

Selfless sewing circle of sisters rally together producing medical face masks for community healthcare professionals

CLIFTON – Medical face masks, crucial for frontline healthcare professionals and first responders in this novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, remain in short supply nationwide.

What can we do to protect these doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians and nursing home staff as well as the vulnerable populations in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers? What to do when supplies run out?

Bosque County resident Jan Kieta asked herself those very questions, and she felt inspired to do something meaningful and tangible as a solution.

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Bosque County resident Jan Kieta, pictured with husband Doug, organized the effort to produce hand-made medical face masks for local frontline healthcare professionals (above). The delicate hands of Bosque Arts Center Quilt Guild President Linda Pfeiffer sewing face masks for Goodall-Witcher Healthcare employees (top).

Together with the Bosque Arts Center Quilt Guild President Linda Pfeiffer and liaison Heather Willmann, Kieta came up with a plan to produce homemade cloth face masks for the Goodall-Witcher Healthcare facilities in Clifton and Whitney. Although GWH attempted to stash up on face masks early in the pandemic, quantities remained low. And not knowing how long the crisis will last, the need for face masks persists.

When a CBS Evening News crew came to Clifton last week to produce a segment on how rural hospitals were preparing for and dealing with the coronavirus crisis, the local need for surgical-grade N95 masks became national news when Goodall-Witcher Healthcare CEO and President Adam Willmann described the lengths he and his staff went to procure as many as possible.

“We decided to go to our local hardware store, and our feed store and our Tractor Supply and buy all the masks we could get our hands on,” Willmann told CBS reporter Omar Villafranca in the segment that aired nationally March 21. “Even though some of them are not N95 grade, we will stash them away just in case we run out.”

And with that, the idea took shape and transformed into a social distancing production line.

Now a hot item among the hospital and nursing home employees, the Quilt Guild cloth face masks have become a fashion statement, covering the boring, white, standard-issue face masks with the colorful, fabric ones.

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Goodall-Witcher Healthcare frontline employees wearing their novel, and oh-so-necessary fashion accessory – medical face masks handmade by their own community members.

Kieta serves as the project administrator, sending out the initial “request for help” emails, asking for financial and material donations, and sending out “thank you” notes. Pfeiffer has become the hands-on field commander, marshaling the troops of selfless sewing circle of sisters, and sewing herself. Heather Willmann became the liaison between the healthcare system and the quilt guild.

Assistance has come from all corners of the community. For example, Clifton’s Ace Hardware donated the wire for the nose piece sewn into the masks.

“We are all in this together,” Kieta said. “And the underlying message with this project is that we are all rallying together. Forgetting about the ‘me, me, I,I,’ and putting the community first. Asking ‘what can we do?’”

By making the masks, Kieta also feels the project has taken on another level in this crisis, giving people who might otherwise be afraid to get out of their homes another way to cope with the increased isolation. Making the face masks provides a diversion, giving them purpose and pride as they contribute to their community.

Although not a part of the BAC Quilt Guild, Gladys Anz has embraced selflessness equally. Knowing their mother would have a hard time staying at home without something worthwhile to do, her daughters encouraged her to start sewing face masks by bringing in a pattern.

According to Anz, she has a pick up load of fabric to choose from, having sewn her entire life. Not one to sit still, she does alterations for the Washhouse, helps out at the Pot ‘O Gold in the fabric department, and volunteers at Goodall-Witcher Hospital. Anz also has her own personal mission making prayer quilts for people.

“I’m happier when my hands are busy,” Anz said. “As an old lady, I can’t do much. But if I can just help a little bit, that’s good enough. I hope we can get over this quickly.”

Anz started making masks in pretty, cheerful, bright colors for a McGregor nursing facility where one of her four daughters works. She has also made some for the Lutheran Sunset Home and the Clifton Rehabilitation Center.

The face mask makers have been so productive, they hit a snag this week when they ran out of elastic. And as it turned out, the elastic bands proved to be hard to find. So, some of the quilters resorted to making cloth ties instead. But being persistent paid off, and new rolls of elastic found online were delivered on Friday.

Being quilters, most of the ladies – and a few men – thankfully have enormous stashes of fabrics in all colors and designs tucked away in plastic bins and drawers to satisfy their hobby needs. That stash is now being put to good use.

Jessica Robinson, an agent for Carlisle Real Estate, took to Facebook to brag on her boss, Sidney Carlisle, displaying samples of her handy work.

“If you know our broker, you know she’s pretty amazing,” Robinson posted. “But did you know that she is THIS amazing?! She’s cranking them out & more to come! #FULLservicerealestatebrokerage.”

Carlisle began making face masks for people she knew that were vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus – people recuperating from an illness or someone with a compromised immune system. But as a member of the BAC Quilt Guild, Carlisle continue to make masks in the evenings after closing the office. While quilting provides a relaxing stress-relief for Carlisle, she feels this project has become a necessity.

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Bosque Arts Center Program Director Deb Phinney delivers Quilt Guild medical face masks to Ratonia McClement at Goodall-Witcher Hospital.

“People are tickled when they get their masks,” Carlisle said when she shows up with her fun, but very necessary masks.

“We are happy with whatever amount people can make,” Pfeiffer said. “It is a wonderful community project, and I am so proud of my ladies for being there for their community. It shows how this community will do anything for each other.”

As the united team finishes masks, they drop them off at the BAC for further distribution by Program Director Deb Phinney. Once Goodall-Witcher’s demands have been met, Pfeiffer hopes to expand the distribution to nursing homes, pharmacy and post office employees.

“We need to keep our frontline protected,” Pfeiffer said. “We are helping them to help us.”

In these most frightful of times, this necessary product made with love by members of their own community has become THE foremost fashion statement for local frontliners during this health crisis.

And seriously, who wouldn’t like to be greeted by a colorful flamingo or balloon face mask, when having to go in for the dreaded diagnostic COVID-19 test because of symptoms? Anything to lighten the gravity of that scenario serves as surely welcome.

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS & BRETT VOSS

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