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Students sew surgical masks to donate to healthcare facility amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

As a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, there has been a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as surgical masks, gowns and face guards. In order to subsidize the demand, several non-profit organizations are calling for students and community members alike to sew or create supplies to donate to hospitals and charities.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that healthcare workers use N95 surgical masks, which prevents at least 95% of particulates from entering the body. Although not as effective as N95 masks, the CDC describes homemade surgical masks as able to catch droplets of infected fluid, and under extreme circumstances may be used in combination with traditional protective gear to protect healthcare workers.

Organizations like Masks4Medicine, and Mask Force provide volunteers with patterns they can use to make fabric surgical masks. While the volunteer must purchase their own fabric and sewing machine and mail the masks, each organization sanitizes, quality checks and distributes the product to healthcare providers. Senior Memphis Cutchlow sewed and donated several masks to Masks4Medicine since RBHS closed March 17. She said she participated in the program because she thought it was a good way to aid healthcare workers while she practiced social distancing at home.

“I saw a few people on Instagram who had posted on their stories that they were making reusable masks for healthcare workers, and with this long break that we have, I knew that I had the time and sewing materials necessary to make some too,”
Memphis Cutchlow, senior

“I saw a few people on Instagram who had posted on their stories that they were making reusable masks for healthcare workers, and with this long break that we have, I knew that I had the time and sewing materials necessary to make some too,” Cutchlow said. “I have a cousin who is a nurse in Madrid who has actually tested positive for COVID-19 for the past two weeks straight, and I know that she and other healthcare workers around the world are putting their lives at risk by doing their jobs. The least I could do for them to show my appreciation was to sew some masks for workers in the U.S. to help during this supply shortage.”

Both Masks4Medicine and Mask Force used social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to publicize and promote their goals. Junior Maddy Koveleski, who donated to Mask Force, said Instagram was one of the primary ways she and her friends heard of the volunteer opportunity. She said although it may take research to find and select one of the many similar organizations, the ease of donation and simple patterns make mask sewing a convenient way for students to volunteer.

“I heard about making them from social media buzz, and my Grandma, who’s making them for her community in Brownsburg, Indiana,” Kovaleski said. “There are donation collection points and Joann Fabrics, and I’m pretty sure the one at Broadway Diner is still open. There’s a lot of information on Facebook, but there’s not a strong center of organization, so you need to ask around a little. Good people are trying to make a difference.”

There are donation collection points and Joann Fabrics, and I’m pretty sure the one at Broadway Diner is still open. There’s a lot of information on Facebook, but there’s not a strong center of organization, so you need to ask around a little. Good people are trying to make a difference.”
Maddy Kovaleski, junior
The social media campaign proved especially effective with Masks4Medicine reaching nearly 5,000 Instagram followers and receiving more than 500 masks since the campaign began March 20. Masks4Medicine coordinator Dr. Nicole Seminara said the donations of sewn surgical masks they received have already exceeded their goal of 500 for that product. 

“We are [still] accepting masks that are already made,” Dr. Seminara said, “but are encouraging donations of other types of PPE.”

Patterns for other forms of PPE such as plastic face shields and gowns can be found on both the Masks4Medicine and Mask Force website. Although some of the largest, Masks4Medicine and Mask Force are not the only homemade supplies donation organizations. Others, including the Alvera Faith and Community Engage Program, are also accepting supplies. Kovaleski said there are opportunities to help the community during the COVID-19 pandemic for everyone as long as they’re willing to look into their options

“Other students can totally help out from home. There’s a lot of information online with sewing patterns, but if you can’t sew there’s also a need for drivers and other skills,” Kovaleski said. “It may take some asking around online but there are definitely people in Columbia that can find a job for you.”

Do you think students should donate homemade supplies? Let us know in the comments below.

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