What started in April as a few friends sewing a few masks for a few nurses grew in epic proportions. Fast forward to the end of May, and you have a story of community engagement, commitment, resilience, and working together to solve a problem. The COVID-19 Sewing Taskforce for Hampton Roads, an all-volunteer pop-up grassroots organization of more than 1,400 Hampton Roads individuals, made and distributed 40,487 masks for our region’s vulnerable healthcare workers and community members. 76 organizations received masks for their staff, clients, patients, and others.
Stephanie Calliott, CIVIC Board Member and alum from the Class of 2015, heard about the group and wanted to help. “When I started, there were 40 people involved. I knew this would be a memorable moment in time but couldn’t imagine what it would become. I can’t sew, but I thought, one thing I know how to do is use my network to mobilize people. So I got to work.”
To get everything done, the group evolved into a “regional system”. Six distribution sites were set up (Norfolk, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, and Yorktown), where volunteers could pick up/drop off their materials. There were different jobs for different people: recruit volunteers, new member management, cut materials, sew masks, staff the distribution sites, acquire materials, perform quality control, manage inventory, motivate volunteers, and deliver the finished masks to grateful recipients.
Phase 1: 19,411 hospital-tested and approved masks were made for the 11 local hospitals, EVMS, senior living communities, and physician and home health offices. This included clear-panel masks for the benefit of hearing-impaired patients so that they could read their healthcare provider’s lips.
Phase 2: The MaskForce, as they affectionately call themselves, pivoted to make even more adult and children’s masks for our equally important and vulnerable community members (Foodbank recipients, cancer treatment patients, public housing residents, homeless individuals, emergency shelter dwellers, Child/Adult Protective Services caseworkers, Community Services Board workers, United Way agencies on the southside and peninsula, and others).
Two examples of CIVIC leaders whose agencies received masks were both of the Foodbanks.
They delivered 2,000 masks to the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank, and Karen Joyner (CIVIC Class of 2017) was thrilled. “We were incredibly blessed to receive 2,000 free, handmade masks from the COVID-19 Sewing Taskforce for Hampton Roads. One of our most important goals is protecting the health of our staff, partner agencies, volunteers, and neighbors in need as we continue to serve the community. These masks will help our clients receive the help they need while still remaining safe. During challenging times, we are so touched to see compassionate people step up and volunteer their time and talents to supporting others. The masks look wonderful, and we are grateful to have them!”
Ruth Nichols Jones (Class of 2015, best class ever — so says the trophy. Twice) , Ph.D., President and CEO of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore spoke passionately about her clients. “We did a distribution recently in a public housing community because we can’t facilitate some of our regular school-based programs. I was overcome with emotion because the lines were so long for food assistance and there were so many children in these lines, many of them without masks.”
She continued “That image is stuck in my mind. Going forward, we’re going to find that more children will have to carry the load and come get food for their families. That’s something we’re going to have to deal with. Having masks for our clients is a gift; they will be so grateful to get them. Thank you for what your volunteers are doing for the community. We appreciate every form of support, and you can be assured we’ll put them to good use with both members of our staff and the people we serve.”
The MaskForce was humbled and in awe of all that was accomplished. ”What an incredible group of humans, including the CIVIC alum, who stepped in to help. THIS is what a community does!” Calliott said. Cathy Lewis helped spread the word and hosted the MaskForce founder, CJ Robison, on her popular HearSay radio show, which was a huge help.
They’re finished, for now, but time will tell. To learn more, please visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/642826126497454/?ref=share or http://www.covid19maskforce.com/.
Andria McClellan (CIVIC board member and class of 2010) cut Halyard surgical draping for hospital-approved masks and connected the City of Norfolk’s Emergency Preparedness team with the MaskForce.
Susan Hirschbiel (CIVIC Class 2002) is focused on her sewing, even with that gorgeous background behind her.
It was a family affair for Anne Conner (CIVIC Class of 2010 and former board member) who cut masks and encouraged her sister-in-law’s sewing.
Ted Grell (CIVIC Class of 1998) and his wife Debbie both continue to cut materials for masks going out to our vulnerable community members. They’ve been cutting for more than 6 weeks
Christina Moats-Xavier (CIVIC Class of 2015) put her excellent sewing skills to good use on the Peninsula.
Jody Wagner (Alan Wagner’s better half, CIVIC Class of 2003), of Jody’s Popcorn, generously donated over 1,000 bags of gourmet popcorn as a thank you to all of the hardworking volunteers cutting and sewing masks.