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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

Stitched together: working for a good cause

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

In the spirit of Rosie the Riveter, some local artisans have begun making surgical masks in an effort to help fill the void of medical supplies caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Becky Fikel Morgan, co-owner of Heirloom Claremont, was watching the news Thursday morning when a doctor said that a nurse he works with was sewing masks for the staff because they were running out—which, of course, meant that nurse’s time was not being fully utilized in patient care.

“That was a rallying cry for me,” Ms. Fikel Morgan said. “I have fabric, and I can be sewing.”

So, Thursday night she started a Facebook page called “Stitched Together” to get the greater Claremont community, and beyond, making homemade masks. The idea caught on and by Tuesday the group had more than 750 members.

One of her early recruits was Yvonne Cervantes Coleman, owner of Common Thread on Foothill Boulevard. She had to close her sewing shop and cancel all classes when the governor announced last week that only essential businesses could remain open.

With her business’s key operation on hiatus, Ms. Cervantes Coleman had ample time, and even more importantly, plenty of raw materials to begin making masks in bulk. Plus, it gave her something to do besides worrying about the current COVID-19 situation.

“It’s something that I could focus on and take my mind off of everything else, but also knowing that I could be helping another person,” Ms. Cervantes Coleman said. “We knew that masks were in short supply or virtually unavailable. I was hearing from friends whose kids work in hospitals who said they didn’t have masks. The parents are really angry and scared that their kids are going to work in emergency rooms with no masks.”

The Facebook page has become a clearinghouse for all of the sewists who want to get involved—whether it’s sharing patterns, giving away cloth, or connecting those making masks with people who need them. There is also a link to a SignUp.com page where institutions that need masks can make a request.

The homemade mask production idea is spreading across the nation, according to Ms. Fikel Morgan. A similar effort has been launched in Long Island, New York by her sister Keta Graber. The need for masks there is vast because New York is the current epicenter of the coronavirus crisis. 

Ms. Cervantes Coleman’s masks use 100-percent Japanese cotton with a custom filter pocket and a wire to make the mask fit over the nose. They are washable and reusable, and the only component that needs to be replaced is the filter. Common charcoal filters are ideal but even a cut-up vacuum bag lining will work. “It’s super comfortable and you can breathe in it,” she said.

The prep work takes a while but once that is done the rest of the process is pretty quick. She uses a machine called a serger for the crucial step of finishing the edges, which makes the process go much faster.

Some may be concerned that homemade masks are not as effective as actual surgical masks, which is true. However, it is far better than nothing and there is research indicating that these are effective.

In addition to medical professionals, police and firefighters have requested masks. A recent post on “Stitched Together” asked for masks specifically for law enforcement.

“If anyone has black, tan or green fabric, we need masks for sheriff’s deputies,” the post read. The group has also had a request from the El Monte Fire Department.

“All of a sudden this thing got serious about 24 hours ago,” Ms. Cervantes Coleman said on Friday. “We were up all night trying to figure out what the next step will be. I am mainly making these for frontline people—doctors, nurses and people who don’t have anything right now.”

The parallels to the Greatest Generation, and the work and sacrifices common people made to help win the war came to Ms. Cervantes Coelman’s mind while working on the masks.

“I feel we are back in the [1940s] with the war effort. All of those home sewists were making parachutes and whatever was needed for the soldiers.”

An official total is difficult to gauge, but Ms. Fikel Morgan said they have made and delivered about 500 in four days. A quick round up of the requests that have been fulfilled on SignUp totaled 1,075—however, not all of those were fulfilled by the Claremont group.

During a brief break, Ms. Cervantes Coleman had a chance to reflect on how the crisis is affecting Claremont as a whole.

“I don’t know what our little town is going to do with all of these businesses trying to survive. I am turning mine into a virtual classroom when I am done with this [mask making.] That’s what I was trying to focus on before, but this is definitely more immediate,” she said. “Kids are definitely stressed, I feel like we need to check in with them and make sure they are okay.”

Tracy Badders, a charge nurse with Gladstone Care and Rehabilitation in Glendora, recently received 12 masks from Ms. Fikel Morgan. She said the masks were mainly for the patients, the residents who require skilled nursing and also have sub acute respiratory conditions.

“It’s mainly to protect them [patients] from us,” she said referring to the medical staff.

“We don’t throw [the masks] away but keep them, wash and iron them to kill the viruses. This has really taken off. It’s emotional really, it’s been such a blessing,” she said.

“The need is still tremendous,” Ms. Fikel Morgan said. “It’s been very touching to see how the community has come together. But we have to keep moving.”

Tto get involved, search for “stitched together” on Facebook or connect with Heirloom on Instagram. You can also email astitchedtogether20@gmail.com.

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