ACTS OF KINDNESS
Author and activist Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
And a group of area sewers is living up to Keller’s words.
The combined talents of members of the Stitch and Chat outreach ministry at The Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit, the church’s congregation and members of The Crazy Quilters’ Quilt Guild along with neighbors and friends produced more than 3,000 masks, according to Linda Letts, a member of the church and an organizer of the mask drive.
The final masks were expected to be made by the group at the end of the April in an effort lasting approximately five weeks.
“I think we’re exhausted,” Letts said with a laugh in a phone interview with The Press April 22.
The effort started in mid-March. Lorie Stout Sherman, who organized the drive with Letts, said 900 masks were made the first week and each week exceeded the total made the week prior; more than 1,000 the second week; approximately 1,100 the third week. Other masks were made for friends, family and neighbors.
A request made by a medical professional resulted in 36 surgical caps made by the group.
A majority of the masks were earmarked for donation and delivery to St. Luke’s University Health Network and Lehigh Valley Health Network, organizers said.
In an emailed response, St. Luke’s University Health Network Executive Director Christina Lewis, wrote, “Each sewer is dedicated to making sure that our health care providers have a mask and they appreciate being able to contribute to keeping our community safe.”
“It’s a little thing to do but it’s important,” Sherman said of the effort. “It’s our thank you for what those people do for the rest of us,” Sherman said of the donation of the masks to the medical community.
Each mask is made of 100 percent cotton fabric. Fabric is washed in hot water to force it to shrink so masks will not shrink when laundered after wearing, potentially affecting the fit. Once washed the fabric is cut, ironed, pleated and finished with elastic straps used to secure the masks to the wearer’s face.
The work by these volunteers and many others in the community totaled to a donation of more than 18,000 masks to St. Luke’s alone, according to Lewis.
Veteran sewer Lis Cassler, of Emmaus, began making masks on her own from a video she received through a fabric and craft store before contributing to the group effort.
“It made me feel like I was part of a solution,” Cassler said in a telephone interview April 22.
Like many of her fellow sewers, Cassler tapped her own supplies of materials for masks produced early in her effort.
As the group continued, a variety of strategies developed.
Letts made mask kits, placing cloth and elastic in bags volunteers then used to make masks.
When supplies of elastic ran low, a swimsuit manufacturer from Easton made a donation of the much needed material, according to Sherman and Letts.
St. Luke’s University Health Network also contributed fabric and latex-free elastic to the cause, according to Sherman.
Lewis confirmed several bulk orders of materials from manufacturers and a large donation of fabric from retailer Michael’s.
Volunteers also fitted masks with what Lewis described as “crocheted and other creatively designed ear savers that prevent irritation on the back of the caregiver’s ear.”
Sherman, who lives in Schnecksville and delivered the finished masks to locations designated by the respective health networks, shared a story of one receptionist, wearing a paper mask practically “dancing across the floor” at the sight of the colorful masks.
Volunteers cut and stitched many masks of vibrantly colored and patterned fabrics to help lift the spirits of doctors and patients. Masks have a front and a back to help users recall which side to wear nearest their faces.
Melanie Werley, who also enjoys knitting and cross-stitch, started making masks on her own in late March, she said in an interview by telephone April 27. She found a pattern online, ordered elastic, gathered fabric donations from friends and family and “off I went,” Werley said.
The effort also has helped sewers bond during a time when stay-at-home and social distancing protocols keep many people from gathering together.
Letts said her friendship with Sherman has grown as they coordinated the effort through daily phone calls and emails.
Both described a family of volunteers who developed an assembly line to create masks. Adult children would cut fabric and elastic which their father would then sew into masks.
Cassler said she started with the goal of making a dozen. By her estimate, she made more than 75 masks by mid-April.
As of April 27, Werley had filled requests for 806 masks and was starting work on a request from a friend for 150 more. Making masks fills a need for many to do something in the face of this crisis, Werley said.
Cassler expressed a similar sentiment. After creating her first batch she realized something.
“From there I needed to be part of something bigger,” Cassler said.