A growing number of volunteers during the novel coronavirus pandemic are sharing with others while sheltering in place by creating face masks to be used by health care providers and their patients.
One group is coordinated by Jana Wills and her husband, Mark Wills, dean of the Niswonger Campus of Walters State Community College in Greeneville.
Jana Wills, a Greenville Middle School teacher, said she got the idea to create the masks after seeing a post by a respiratory therapist in an Oklahoma hospital who called attention to the national shortage of protective medical equipment. Like-minded volunteers set to work creating a variety of designs that can be worn over the face as a protective measure.
“This is a whole community effort. I’ve got all kinds of ladies helping me with this project,” Wills said Monday.
“This is a group for people in Greeneville and Greene County to network to sew face masks for our community health care workers and their patients,” Mark and Jana Wills wrote on a Facebook page created by Mark Wills called “The Greeneville Tailor Shop,” which can be accessed at https://www.facebook.com/groups/3071248132905713/.
Mark Wills said the name of the group is a play on words referring to President Andrew Johnson, who called Greeneville home and ran a tailor shop before achieving national prominence.
“Hi everyone, my wife and I launched our own little seamstress shop where we are making face masks for our community. The Greene County EMA office is the collection point for all these donations,” Mark Wills wrote. “I will be adding links to patterns, video instructions, etc. here in hope that the project can continue to grow.”
The Facebook page has a single focus: “Make Masks! Now get the dust off your machines and start sewing,” Wills wrote.
Between 300 and 500 masks had been created by volunteers by Tuesday, Jana Wills said.
The demand for the masks among healthcare workers and others in contact with the public during the pandemic is great, the Wills’ said.
“Our community has stepped forward,” said Jana Wills, who learned there is “an urgent need” locally for health care workers to have protective gear.
“A lot of women who said they haven’t sewn in a long time are trying and finding out they can do it. They’re pulling out their machines and getting them dusted off,” Wills said.
“I just learned how to sew Saturday. It’s actually kind of therapeutic,” Mark Wills said.
Some of the cotton masks have elastic ties, while others have cloth ties. Some people are obtaining materials to make the masks, while others are using repurposed materials like dish towels and pillowcases to create the face masks.
“These are meant to be taken home and washed and reused,” Jana Wills said.
Patterns for the masks and instructions on how to participate are being posted on the Facebook page, Mark Wills said.
The masks are being distributed to nurses and other hospital employees, the county Office of Emergency Management, city and county school employees who are distributing food, and other health care providers.
The medical equipment shortage remains acute across the country as manufacturers ramp up to supply health care providers with the items they need.
The Greene County effort “is basically a band-aid until they get the stuff they need,” Mark Wills said.
One delivery of masks was made Tuesday to the Greene County Office of Emergency Management.
“We were very blessed again this morning to receive 12 more masks at the EMA Office from Jeff and Lisa Reaves. Thank you, both,” Emergency Management Director Heather Sipe wrote on “The Greeneville Tailor Shop” Facebook page.
“We already have and will continue to get these distributed to our response and health personnel in our community. Many requests are coming in and there are many out there sewing and making deliveries. Thank you, Jana and Mark Wills, for overseeing the project and keeping everyone informed and encouraged,” Sipe wrote.
The mission of the group is to “get masks to healthcare workers, public servants, nursing homes, and hospitals that needs them in Greeneville and Greene County through the EMA Office,” according to a post on the Facebook page.
Jana Wills said she has been contacted by people from other counties offering to help. She advises residents of other counties to check with their emergency management agency to see what is needed in their area.
OTHERS PARTICIPATINGLynette Ricker is among those making cotton masks as part of another Greene County group. The masks are available online for $5 each, which covers the cost of supplies, she said.
The masks are about 3-1/2 inches wide and cover the chin and nose, with elastic to go around the ears, said Ricker, a skilled crafts enthusiast.
“A friend of mind told me she has heard they are getting hard to find and she said, ‘You need to make some,’” Ricker said Monday.
Assisting Ricker are housemates Beverly Ricker, Kim Rohrer and Nancy Helton.
“Up to now, we have made about 150,” she said.
Ricker said the masks are being sold online and through word of mouth.
“We’ve been making some and selling some, and if some folks really need some, we make sure they have them,” Ricker said. “We’ve delivered some to people who are not able to get out.”
Some mask buyers ask for a specific type of print.
“(The cost) just helps with the supplies,” Ricker said.
Like others in Greene County, Ricker and her housemates are taking recommendations by Gov. Bill Lee and other officials seriously, even when delivering face masks.
“We try to stay in as much as possible and practice social distancing,” Ricker said.
The group coordinated by Mark and Jana Wills anticipates remaining busy for some time to come.
“Hopefully, they will get their (medical) supplies soon,” Mark Wills said.