Local Facebook groups sew positivity by making masks

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Seams front window

Alec Gerstenberger

The front window of the Seams fabric store

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, social distancing measures and wearing masks are important for slowing its spread. Forced to dock in Guam for two months after sailors contracted COVID-19, USS Theodore Roosevelt is an example of why safety measures matter.

Out of the crew of nearly 4,800 sailors, tests showed that 1,273 of the carrier’s crew were infected.

“Those wearing a face covering had a 55.8 percent infection rate versus those not wearing masks, who had a 80.8 percent infection rate,” according to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

When Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” shelter-in-place order, masks were not required to be worn in public. However, medical professionals and other essential workers required proper personal protective equipment, or PPE, in order to continue working.

Once COVID-19 began to spread, PPE shortages caused anxiety among many of those who required it. Seeing this dire need for proper protection, mid-Michigan sewing groups took the call to action and fired up their sewing machines.

Alec Gerstenberger

Jessy Gregg, owner of Seams, shows off her back room which she uses as a staging area for making and distributing masks.

Seams, Classes and Community is a Facebook page run by East Lansing City Councilwoman and owner of Seams Fabric, Jessy Gregg. When Gregg found out that schools and business were going to be temporarily shut down, she made arrangements to be able to work from her home. That night she saw a story on Facebook about the Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Indiana. The video explained how to sew a fabric mask that could then be donated in case there was a PPE shortage at the hospital.

“The craft community is very highly mobilized around things like that,” Gregg said. “Generally when there is a call to craft it goes out very fast and people respond very quickly.”

Alec Gerstenberger

An array of fabrics displayed in the Seams store.

Gregg said she was initially hesitant to tell her group to begin sewing because she wanted to see if there was an actual need first. That same night she received a call from a local home health agency asking for 150 masks. According to Gregg, 150 masks sounded like a “mind boggling” number of masks at that point and she realized how much need there actually was.

Laura Hall is a resident of Eaton Rapids and organizer of the Eaton Rapids Medical Masks Facebook group. Being related to two nurses, Hall was immediately driven to start sewing once the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“We have nurses, in nursing homes and in hospitals and other medical fields that are currently working, because this is before everything got shut down, that don’t have the PPE that they need and can’t get it,” Hall said.

While many of these Facebook groups started off as a means for those who enjoy sewing to share their latest creations, the pandemic turned them into a means for distributing masks to those in need.

Overnight, Gregg and Hall’s Facebook groups became a hub for sewing and donating fabric masks. The two worked together to make a spreadsheet of all their requests and began to sew. As the pandemic became more widespread, the requests grew and Gregg became overwhelmed trying to keep track of every order.

Alec Gerstenberger

Math equation on a whiteboard at Seams fabric store.

With the requests flowing in steadily, Gregg had to tell her volunteers to not try to keep track of each individual they were sewing for because the orders changed so regularly. Therefore, Gregg has volunteers drop off their completed masks to her so she can distribute them while sending the volunteers away with more donated fabric to sew masks.

“At this point I’ve totally lost track of how many we’ve made and distributed, but it is well over 15,000 at this point just in the mid-Michigan area just with people I’ve been in contact with,” said Gregg. “A staggering amount of these masks have been made and distributed.”

Table of masks and mask making supplies

Alec Gerstenberger

Tables in the back of the Seams fabric store are covered in mask and mask making supplies.

One of the members of the Seams, Classes and Community Facebook group and “super volunteers,” as described by Gregg, is Nancy Ward. Ward started sewing masks in March. She started after getting a text from Gregg with the video from Deaconess Hospital showing how to sew masks. Ward said the text message that was under the video was “Get on your machine,” and she did.

“I can’t do anything else to make this better,” said Ward. “It’s like therapy. It’s something you can control.”

Ward said her response to the pandemic may also have something to do with her upbringing.

“How I learned to sew was with an aunt who was a teenager during World War II and they sewed and did things for the soldiers,” Ward said. “It’s a skill I had, it’s a supply I had. I can do this.”

As of June 8, Ward said she has sewn around 2,350 masks with “probably another 50 cut, laying on the table.”

Although Gregg and Hall’s Facebook groups are mostly focused on the mid-Michigan area, they are connected to a group of admins throughout the state that are all coordinating groups of mask makers on Facebook. This has allowed for them to contribute masks they have to areas around Michigan that need masks most.

“We were getting requests from Jackson, we were getting requests from Kalamazoo, we were getting requests from north of Grand Rapids,” Hall said. “It’s crazy how much random people got together via Facebook to make this happen.”

After the Edenville Dam in Midland, Michigan failed on May 19, Gregg decided to send masks she had saved to give to the East Lansing public schools to Midland instead.

“Everything I had in the store at the time which was almost 900 masks I boxed up in a huge box and sent up to Midland to be distributed to the people in the shelters,” Gregg said.

In the past week, Michigan has had less than 700 confirmed new cases of the novel coronavirus and the number of those who have recovered from COVID-19 is on the rise. Even with restrictions starting to be lifted and people beginning to go out more, these groups have no plans of slowing down their sewing.

If you are interested in learning more about Seams, sewing masks or sewing in general, you can join the Seams, Classes and Community page here. You can also find more information about the Eaton Rapids Medical Masks group page here.