The COVID-19 pandemic caught the nation unprepared on many fronts, one of which was the need for personal protective equipment for medical personnel.
Cloth masks emerged as a substitute. When the Centers for Disease Control in April recommended wearing cloth masks for the general public, mask demand increased.
In response, an army of volunteer mask-makers formed across the U.S., making homemade masks for health care facilities, nursing homes, essential workers and individuals. One “regiment” in this army is Mask Mafia, consisting mainly of Chenango and Madison County residents.
When Danielle Goedel of Sherburne, an avid quilter, saw a Facebook post about the need for masks at Chenango Memorial Hospital in Norwich, she reached out to fellow quilters about making masks. To better coordinate the effort, she set up a Facebook page, “Mask Mafia,” — so named, Goedel said, “because participants were on a mission to come together, like a team, and that’s kind of what the Mafia does.”
About 50 people volunteered for the effort, including about 30 “consistent sewers,” Goedel said. More than 400 masks have gone to Chenango Memorial while Bassett Healthcare Network has received 1,000. Other large mask orders went to the New York State Veterans’ Home in Oxford and to DCMO BOCES in Norwich. As of this week, Mask Mafia had made 10,261 masks.
Members shared feelings about the mask-making experience on their Facebook page.
“I’m sewing like a mad woman,” wrote Sherburne’s Jeanne Behret on June 18.
“My total donated was 250. I’m feeling pretty good,” posted Kimberly Wills-Starin of Huntersville, N.C., on June 12.
Judy Roberts of Norwich has made more than 800 masks.
Roberts, who said it takes her just over five minutes to make a mask, said she has enjoyed making “specialty” masks according to age, size or fabric color. Purple masks, for example, have gone to students graduating from Norwich High School.
“It makes me feel good to help others with the skills I have,” Roberts said.
A division of labor was established between Goedel and Dan Foust, proprietor of Fojo Beans in Hamilton. Goedel focuses on getting masks essential workers; Foust handles masks for individuals.
Goedel’s contingent hasn’t charged for masks, although some people have volunteered donations. Foust has asked those able to contribute $10 to a Pay It Forward Fund to cover beverages from Fojo’s for medical personnel and first responders.
Some members have been making mask accessories to prevent discomfort sometimes caused by the masks’ elastic fasteners. Jeremy Loveland, a Sherburne firefighter and emergency medical services member, used a 3-D printer to produce plastic ear savers. Others have made headbands which buttons to which the mask fasteners are attached.
Erika Swayze, director of admissions, marketing and finance at Norwich Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, said the facility, with a staff of 125 and 82 residents, anticipated the impact of COVID-19 in mid-February. When she saw Mask Mafia’s Facebook page, she contacted Goedel and 300 masks were delivered within a week, Swayze said.
“We were really grateful, and our residents were really pleased, too. We were able to send masks home with discharges,” Swayze said.
Swayze said the mask supply chain is catching up with demand but that the need for masks has shifted from medical personnel to the general public.
Connie Hulbert, a nurse at Fox Internal Medicine, echoed Swayze’s enthusiasm.
“Mask Mafia donated over 100 masks, all different prints and styles. It was phenomenal.”
Prior to the donation, Hulbert said, patients had to return masks at the front desk. She said Mask Mafia will supply her unit with masks for as long as needed and is working on masks for the pediatric unit.
Mask Mafia’s efforts have extended beyond New York, with masks sent to medical personnel in Arizona, Michigan and Illinois.
On Saturday, June 27, Mask Mafia will offer free masks at Stewart’s in Sherburne from 10 a.m. until all the masks are gone.