EASTON — Looking for a project with a purpose while you’re stuck inside?
Quilt artist Teri O’Meara of Centreville is recruiting folks with sewing machines to join an army of sewers who are making masks for first responders and people she knows who face high health risks from COVID-19.
She’s been coordinating a team for the past month or so, expanding her reach into all five Mid-Shore counties. But she said more volunteers are needed.
“I need more sewers,” she said.
O’Meara, who is a retired researcher, said she sews from 5 a.m to past 10 p.m. each day. She’s also on the phone, organizing sewers and coordinating pickups and drop-offs with volunteer courier Gary Austin of Talbot County. She can be reached at 410-758-3230.
She said those who have volunteered to sew masks are “sailmakers, upholsterers, seamstresses, dressmakers, artists, quilters, home sewers.” Husbands cut fabric, children as young as 10 are sewing, and those in senior living facilities are helping. A 93-year-old woman in Chestertown no longer has a sewing machine, but she keeps O’Meara daily company as O’Meara sews.
“We have essential services personnel working in high-risk jobs who are also making masks when they’re off of work,” O’Meara said. “We have a stewardess flying in and out of New York City making masks. Grocery store workers are making masks.”
“Everybody from all walks of life have been coming together for this, and it’s pretty awesome,” said Steven Hinckel on Friday, April 10. He’s the manager of JOANN fabric in Easton.
The fabric store has been swept up in a nationwide shortage of elastic that has created a challenge for some do-it-yourselfers.
“It’s easier to find TP than quarter-inch elastic these days,” Hinckel said.
Fortunately, other materials at home can be substituted, and fabric can be up-cycled. O’Meara stressed the importance of sewers’ complying with the stay-at-home order and finding fabric, elastic or fitted nose wire materials at home.
Since N95 masks are designated for medical workers, and the rest of us are supposed to be wearing washable face coverings, supplies are dwindling. Despite the stay-at-home order, the yard goods section of the Denton Super Walmart was cleared of fabric “fat quarters” and elastic — and even sewing machines.
But you don’t have to buy new fabric to construct face masks. Tightly woven cotton clothing, bedding, curtains, bandanas and T-shirts can be used for face masks. In place of elastic in the sewing notions aisle, you can use hair supplies like stretchy headbands and ponytail elastics. O’Meara knows seamstresses who are cutting ACE bandages into smaller strips or chopping up their husband’s stretchy undershirts.
O’Meara said six targeted groups require different types of masks, depending on the need. Targeting the groups with the masks they need makes for more efficient teamwork and results, she said. For instance, a police officer’s mask is “extraordinarily time-consuming. It’s very tailored and has a wired nose.”
“If any sewer wants to know that their mask is going to an immediate, targeted need, (he or she can) give me a phone call, because I can get them in the pipeline in three different counties immediately,” O’Meara said. “And then they don’t need to get in their car, drive anywhere — their masks will be picked up at their door.”
“At this time, we do not have enough surgical masks for our frontline health care workers to make these available to the public,” Talbot County Health Officer Dr. Fredia Wadley said last week.
The Centers for Disease Control advises that masks alone will not protect you and they are only as effective as your social distancing and hand washing.
“Cloth masks do not take the place pf good hygiene practices recommended by the CDC and social distancing. They will not prevent infection by COVID-19. (But for) those who are high risk who must go into the community, the masks cut down on viral load and are better than nothing at all.” O’Meara said. “Additionally, some jurisdictions are using cloth masks to extend the life of N95 masks.”
According to a news release, Kent County Health Officer Bill Webb praised those making the masks. He said the Kent County Health Department is distributing the masks “to organizations that can give them to individuals who are symptomatic and need to limit the spread of respiratory droplets from the infected.”
“Residents of nursing homes, assisted living agencies, and other group homes desperately need these masks. I can assure you that none will go to waste,” Webb said in the release.
University of Maryland Shore Regional Health is accepting donations of folded (pleated) and fitted masks. For more information, visit www.umms.org/shore/coronavirus/how-you-can-help/masks.
In Talbot County, members of Bayside Quilters of the Eastern Shore Inc. reportedly have made hundreds of masks, primarily for anyone being transported by ambulance, for law enforcement officers and for nursing homes, according to a news release.
Chestertown resident Cheryl Hoopes launched the Face Mask Challenge-Kent County in March after reading a Facebook post by her niece, a nurse in an emergency department in Baltimore, about homemade masks.
To learn more about the Face Mask Challenge-Kent County, go to www.facebook.com/FACE-MASK-Challenge-Kent-County-MD-112356953733772. Drop-off sites for completed masks (placed in sealed plastic bags) are behind Sumner Hall, 206 South Queen St., Chestertown and Cheryl Hoopes’ home at 208 Mount Vernon Ave., Chestertown.
Queen Anne’s County Editor Angela Price and Kent County Editor Dan Divilio contributed to this story.