Meet the parents making masks for those in need

Mar 27, 2020

A group of Dartmouth High School parents from the Dartmouth School Music Association are putting their skills to use for the community by sewing fabric face masks for hospital staff in need of protective equipment.

The parents — who would normally be sewing costumes for band competitions this time of year — are instead working to make and deliver hundreds of the masks.

DSMA board member Greg Jones said that as of March 26, the group has made 600 masks and counting.

Jones and former DSMA president Lisa Perry came up with the idea after Perry’s husband, a nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, told them health care workers were badly in need of protective equipment due to nationwide shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s just a big need,” Jones said.

According to CDC guidelines, the fabric masks, while not very effective on their own, can be worn over the surgical-grade N95 masks to increase their lifespan. They can also be washed and re-used.

“It extends the life of the mask so they don’t have to replace them as often,” Jones explained. 

And in a worst-case scenario, he noted, anything will do.

“If you can’t get your hands on N95 masks, you can use cloths, homemade masks, bandanas,” Jones said. “Something is better than nothing.” 

Fabric used for the masks includes prints with Dr. Seuss and Disney characters like Aladdin and Tinkerbell, he said. “We figured a lot of these people wanted a little levity in their lives given what they’re dealing with.”

Much of the fabric was donated by Joann Fabrics of Dartmouth as well as those in the community with material to spare.

Rhode Island’s Lifespan health system is also sending out mask-making kits for people to complete and return, so the group has taken around 200 of those as well, Jones said.

And with widespread shortages of certain materials, like elastic, the sewing group has had to get a little creative.

“We’re improvising,” said Jones. “We’re using hair scrunchy things, jewelry, and we’re making masks with ties instead of elastics.”

But the need is only increasing as the pandemic worsens.

“I admit to being a little overwhelmed at the demand,” Jones said. 

The original request from St. Luke’s was for 50-60 masks, which the group made over the weekend. “Since then they’ve requested another 200-300,” he said, adding that it’s not just hospitals.

Nursing homes, police and fire departments, and EMTs all have a need for protective equipment as well.

“As word gets out, more people are asking for them,” noted Jones.

But there are also more people helping.

The original group of sewing parents has increased from six to around 20 people pitching in, with volunteers who deliver and cut fabric and bring the finished masks to St. Luke’s and other area hospitals, like Charlton Memorial in Fall River.

“It’s just blossomed, which is great,” Jones noted. “Everybody’s got a friend that can either sew, cut fabric, or make deliveries.”

He said that it’s great to see the community come together to help during the crisis.

“Everybody wants to do a little something,” he said. “You feel a little helpless sitting in your home.”

“I think people want to help,” he added. “It makes you feel good!”