Eleven Thousand Masks Later, the Requests Haven’t Stopped

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Fabric masks are in high demand as supplies of N-95 masks remain scarce.

Two weeks ago, ELi reported on a local community of “crisis crafters” organized by Seams owner and East Lansing City Council member Jessy Gregg. Hundreds of sewists have been donating their time, supplies and skillset to fulfill a continually growing need – face masks.

With sewists reporting having now made over eleven thousand masks at the Facebook group working on the project, the demand is not letting up. The group continues to invite others to pitch in help through donated labor, supplies, and money.

“You would hope the need would become less, but unfortunately, it seems like the need has become more,” Gregg said of organizations requesting the cloth masks. “At first, we had people who I would say were second-line medical practitioners, a lot of elder care, home-care type agencies who are working with vulnerable populations.”

The requests have now shifted, according to Gregg.

“Requests have moved from casual/cautionary – to being more serious, frontline requests,” she says.

In normal circumstances, medical care providers would order boxes of masks from their commercial suppliers. But right now, there is a worldwide shortage of N95 masks. The Seams-centered group is now receiving pleas from hospital workers and business owners.

Many hospital staff are requesting cloth masks to add a level of sanitation protection, because the cloth masks are washable, unlike the N95 masks they top them with. The Seams group is also now creating headbands to alleviate ear pains from masks, and also making oversized masks that can cover a respirator mask, for even more protection.

While the thousand-member Seams, Classes and Community Facebook group continues to sew masks, headbands, and now also gowns on a daily basis, some are starting to feel the wear and tear of continually crafting during the crisis. Most volunteer to complete about 20-30 masks, but some sewists have completed hundreds.

“I’m really encouraging people who have been at this for a while to just take time for themselves, and just realize that they personally are not responsible for saving the world through masks,” Gregg said. “They can take some time and recharge – and that is really important.”

Photo by Debra Lashbrook

Sarah Williams, social worker, and owner of Sarah Jean Sews, has been helping with dropping-off of fabric and supplies to those who are house-bound. She’s also heading a subgroup within the community to create isolation gowns and masks for Origami Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center in Mason.

So far, she and the team of six other sewists have delivered 17 gowns to Origami, and plan to deliver 33 more within the next few weeks.

“From a social work perspective, there is actually something very healing about people finding purpose and helping during a crisis,” Williams said, and “that can actually lessen the traumatic experience for people that are living it.”

“For me, it’s very mixed,” she explained. “I have always sewn for fun – I sew to be creative as a mental health escape – and this situation is the opposite of that. I am not engaging my fun creative sewing side because we are all operating in a traumatic environment. I am now sewing with urgency and deadlines, and feeling like I can’t sew fast enough.”

Despite exhaustion, and frustration, Williams said this is also the most rewarding sewing project she has ever been a part of.

“As I handed over masks to a nurse and his coworkers, I am also seeing the look of gratitude on people’s faces – something I’d never imagined. . . . It has brought me to tears more than once. I was not prepared for all these emotions.”

Photo by Emily Bergquist

Williams sums it up this way: “I am grateful for [my gift], and I also hate to have to use it this way.”

If you are able to produce and donate cloth masks, Gregg asks that they be washed in hot water and dried in hot dryer cycle before delivery. Completed masks are to be dropped off in sealed Ziploc bags. People making masks can drop them at:

  • Lansing Fire Department Station #8 (815 N. Marshall Street)
  • Lansing Police Department Operations Center (5815 S. Wise Road)
  • Lansing Police Department Headquarters (120 W. Michigan Avenue)
  • Cristo Rey Community Center (1717 N. High Street in Lansing)
  • East Lansing Fire Department (1700 Abbot Road)
  • Sparrow Hospital’s drop location at the northwest entrance of old Eastern High School (Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.)
  • Ingham County Regional Care Facility (3860 Dobie Road in Okemos)

While Gregg’s store is closed, calls to Seams (517-402-4148) transfer to Gregg’s cellphone, and she directs people to donated supplies or arranges acceptance of donated supplies, depending on what someone is calling about.

Although frustrations have come up – everything from having someone steal an entire supply of elastic off her front porch to Facebook threatening to block and remove all posts with the word “masks” to avoid scams – Gregg remains hopeful.

“It’s definitely a feel-good thing,” she said. “We have got an incredibly loving and giving community. The amount of love has been amazing. . . . You can tell there’s some people who are feeling really cut off, and isolated, and they’re looking for a way to feel more connected. They’re looking for a way to feel less helpless, and this has been a really positive thing in that regard.”

Sewist Williams shares the sentiment: “It has been so inspiring to see the community come together around this effort,” she said. “I’ve had people order elastic and drop it off at my door, pay for masks for themselves and then extra ones for those in need.”

Donations of sewing machine needles, rotary cutter blades, thread, fabric, elastic, and money can be directed via Jessy Gregg by writing to her by email. You can also help by donating through the fundraiser being held by Peppermint Creek – click here to learn more about that.

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi’s mailer to stay informed.

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