Small masks, big task: A group of volunteers asks a 'village' to come together

 

Jennet Lacey, left, hands volunteer Tracy McBride a kit of materials for assembling 10 children’s cloth masks Wednesday behind St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus. Kits are available to any volunteer between 5-6 p.m. daily, including Sundays, through July 31. A sewing machine is needed. Finished masks can be dropped off between 5-6 p.m. at the same drive-through location. The masks will be provided to Columbus Municipal School District Pre-K through fourth-grade students.

Jennet Lacey, left, hands volunteer Tracy McBride a kit of materials for assembling 10 children’s cloth masks Wednesday behind St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus. Kits are available to any volunteer between 5-6 p.m. daily, including Sundays, through July 31. A sewing machine is needed. Finished masks can be dropped off between 5-6 p.m. at the same drive-through location. The masks will be provided to Columbus Municipal School District Pre-K through fourth-grade students. Photo by: Antranik Tavitian/Dispatch Staff

 

Jennet Lacey, left, and Annis Cox sort through mask materials at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Columbus July 13.

Jennet Lacey, left, and Annis Cox sort through mask materials at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Columbus July 13.
Photo by: Jan Swoope/Dispatch Staff

 

"Fun" fabrics are preferred for making face coverings young students can identify as their own. Each mask is sewn with a plain muslin backing.
Photo by: Jan Swoope/Dispatch Staff

 

On July 13 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus, Jennifer Shelby holds up a prepackaged kit containing all precut fabric, elastic and pipe cleaners needed to easily assemble 10 youth masks.

On July 13 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus, Jennifer Shelby holds up a prepackaged kit containing all precut fabric, elastic and pipe cleaners needed to easily assemble 10 youth masks.
Photo by: Jan Swoope/Dispatch Staff

 

Glenn Dedeaux

Glenn Dedeaux

 

Kay Ellis

Kay Ellis

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

 

Many hands make light work.

 

The power of that old adage is being summoned as a core of volunteers at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Columbus appeals to the public to help make several thousand cloth masks for little faces. With Columbus Municipal School District school bells set to ring Aug. 6, the group hopes to have 3,000 reusable, non-medical face coverings made in fairly short order -- enough for each of about 1,500 students in pre-K through fourth grade to have two. An ambitious goal.

 

"We were more than happy to take them up on the offer," said Glenn Dedeaux, CMSD assistant superintendent. "Students are going to be required to wear a mask when they enter a bus or any of our schools." Parents are being encouraged to purchase their own masks and get children accustomed to wearing them before school begins, but inevitably masks, over time, will be lost, dropped or dirtied.

 

 

"And you can't find children's masks easily," said Jennet Lacey. She and fellow St. Paul's congregation member Annis Cox put their heads together shortly after the board's mask decision. "When they announced school was going to be opening and that masks were to be worn, we knew there was a need."

 

It helps that Lacey and Cox are both experienced mask makers. Lacey has made face coverings for use at Columbus Air Force Base and at The W, among others. Cox has sewn masks for nursing homes, first responders and for distribution at the Brother's Keepers barbecue location. Ever since reading a story about the Navajo Nation's struggle with the coronavirus, she has also been sending 25 masks weekly to Window Rock, Arizona.

 

When it comes to making 3,000, it comes in handy, too, that both women are longtime quilters.

 

"Our stash of fabrics could probably be an archaeological dig," laughed Lacey. "Quilters hoard a bit, and it's healthy for us to give some of it up."

 

 

How many did you say?

 

"Oh, that's a lot of masks!" Jennifer Shelby remembers thinking when she got the initial email Lacey and Cox sent out asking fellow congregation members to help organize the effort. Shelby's husband, Jason Shelby, is rector at St. Paul's.

 

"I'm also a quilter and had a stash in my closet that I pulled out," she said. "There's a distinct need for masks, so I said yes, I'd love to help." Others signed on as well.

 

To get the project rolling, fun fabrics were pooled and the cutting began. Kid-oriented prints are prime. Some sporting Daniel Tiger, Pete the Cat, Star Wars and other popular themes have already been incorporated. More fabric will be needed.

 

"Our preference is for juvenile-friendly fabrics, something that will attract a child and give them some sense of identity," remarked Lacey, a former elementary educator and former director of St. Paul's preschool. "After teaching kindergarten, I want the children to feel like they have some control. If they can pick a mask they like, they will attach to it and then wear it."

 

Donations of 100 percent lightweight cotton are welcome. (No sports team-oriented fabrics, please.) The masks, being made in three youth sizes, are sewn with a muslin backing.

 

"Some people have given us monetary donations to help purchase muslin, elastic and the pipe cleaners we need," Cox said. Sections of pipe cleaner are used so masks can be shaped to the nose.

 

 

You can help

 

This past Wednesday Lacey and Cox began handing out prepackaged kits to willing members of the community, something they expect to do daily from 5-6 p.m. through July 31. Anyone with a sewing machine and a little time to give is asked to pitch in by driving up to the rear entrance of St. Paul's Church at 318 College St. in downtown Columbus, stay in your vehicle, pick up a kit or two to assemble at home, provide your name and contact information. Finished masks may be dropped off between 5-6 p.m. at the same location.

 

The kits are simple and quick to put together, Cox said.

 

Kay Ellis of Columbus decided to make it a family endeavor. Ellis is retired from the school district but still has a big heart for children. She is also empathetic to the challenges school administrators and parents are currently grappling with. While her daughter, Meagan Koch, is visiting with her three children, Ellis thinks making kids' masks would be beneficial in more ways than one.

 

"I just thought not only is it a good educational experience for the grandchildren (the older two are in eighth- and fourth-grade), with the measuring and cutting, but it's also a good civic project to get them interested in helping people their own age. It'll be a good experience, and it'll be fun for them to have a purpose."

 

 

Beyond 3,000

 

Face coverings for youngsters in pre-K through fourth-grade are the immediate focus, but Cox and Lacey hope that, once that goal is met, they can expand to making masks for older students. They would also like to provide coverings for students at county and other schools. No one can predict how long masks will be needed.

 

Dedeaux remarked, "This is very fluid, unprecedented times we're in, and we've just got to make it as safe as possible for students, teachers, everybody."

 

Of the face coverings, he said, "This is a great thing, great community support, a great way to partner with the school to do something positive for the students. We really are appreciative and ecstatic about the offer."

 

"It's a work of heart," said Lacey, "but there are lots of hearts and hands at St. Paul's and in this community."

 

Editor's note: Email Annis Cox at [email protected] for additional information about the mask project.

 

 

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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