Hundreds of masks being made to protect direct care staff

 

When the COVID-19 pandemic made wearing masks a public health concern, masks suddenly become hard to find. Yet, rather than sit idly by, Lauren Hummel and Donna Fournier sprang into action.

Lauren, a resident of Wilbraham, MA, has some health concerns that could put her at elevated risk if she were to contract the novel coronavirus, so a mask made sense for her. “My mom taught me to sew when I was 10 or so,” Lauren explained. “I’m not skilled enough to do tailoring, but I know my way around enough to sew a mask.”

Donna, who lives in Windsor, CT, recalled watching TV and seeing a story about the importance of masks. “I said to my husband, ‘I’m going to make us some masks for when we go to the grocery store.’” Donna’s mother taught her to sew long ago, and she had a lot of fabric on hand, so all she needed was a pattern. “I looked online and found a few different designs. I picked the simplest one that included a pocket so you can slide in a piece of filter fabric. I’m recently retired and am always looking for hobbies and the masks are fairly easy to make, so I got started. I made about 50, initially for my family, and now to help MHA.” Donna’s future daughter-in-law, Emily Gracewski, is Day Programs Coordinator at MHA’s Resource Center.

Lauren also started by making a mask for herself, and she shared the result on Facebook. Right away, friends reached out wondering if she would make a mask or two (or ten?) for them. “I have a friend whose family does funeral work, and she was concerned about her family going into hospitals, which they do regularly. She asked if I would make some masks for her family. And then a friend who has cancer asked if I would make some more. Of course I said yes.”

A friend of Lauren who also knows the Mental Health Association’s Kim Lee connected the two about a mask making project. “Kim donated a set of high thread-count cotton sheets to use as the fabric for masks and just like that, I had the material I needed to start making masks for the staff who work in MHA’s group homes, who are considered essential workers.”  MHA is a nonprofit provider of residential programs and supportive services to people impacted by mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance use, homelessness and acquired brain injury. Throughout greater Springfield, MHA operates extensive residential, outreach and supported living programs, and a state-of-the-art outpatient behavioral health center.

Donna also found a tie-in with MHA. As it happens, the career she recently retired from was managing group homes. “I worked as a program supervisor for 39 years for group homes in Connecticut,” she explained. “One thing I know is the people who work there can’t work from home. They have to work where the people they serve live. So I had made extra masks and figured that MHA would be able to use them for their staff.”

But having just the masks wasn’t enough as Kimberley Lee, Vice President of Resource Development and Branding, had researched.  “In order for our masks to be as effective as possible, we needed something that would provide BFE or Bacterial Filtration Efficiency. That something is a material called melt-blown. Porous non-woven melt-blown fabrics can be used in the filtration of gaseous as well as liquid materials and are included in surgical and other masks . The melt-blown acts as a filter. We reached out to a local paper company (that wishes to remain anonymous) and upon hearing of our need and how this product would be used, donated a bolt of melt blown filter cloth. We had it the next day! This is a non-woven material that might remind you of the material covering a tea bag, only thicker. Importantly, this melt blown provides BFE of 95% to 97%. That makes it ideal as a filter element in a face mask used in a setting where care givers are in close proximity to those they are serving, such as a group home.”

The material Donna and Lauren are using is washable so the masks can be washed and reused by their individual wearers (they are not intended to be shared). MHA has been relying on the volunteer time and talent of Donna and Lauren to give their staff protection from homemade masks, as well surgical masks. “Most of the fabric I had was Hawaiian, yellow and blue quilt,” said Lauren. “But honestly, if you need a mask, I doubt you care what it looks like, you wear it.”

Lauren chose her mask design based on feedback from people who are wearing masks for work. “Some masks stay on with elastic behind the ears and some tie behind the head,” she said. “Comments posted by health care workers said that the elastic design was causing irritation, so I decided to go with a design that ties.”

Lauren’s daughter Kellie got involved, too. “Now we have a mom/daughter assembly line happening,” Kellie explained. “I cut and iron and my mom works at the sewing machine. We hand the pieces back and forth and working together it takes about 20 minutes to finish a mask. We’ve been getting out six or seven a day.”

“It’s time consuming, but it’s not a hard process,” said Lauren. “So far we’ve done 20 masks for friends who are at risk and more than 50 for MHA. There is still a big need for masks and MHA could use more volunteer sewers if anyone is willing to help. There are people online who are selling masks, but we don’t ask for any money. It’s not the time to make this a business, it’s the time to support the community. This is something we can do to help, so we’re helping.”

To donate fabric or money to purchase additional fabric, or to volunteer your time and sewing talent to make masks, please contact Kim Lee at 413-233-5343 or klee@mhainc.org.