Kristin Barnekov-Short of Wilmington was tired of listening to news reports about a shortage of protective gear for nurses and doctors on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak.
"It's a really dire need right now."
The mother of a 22-year-old nurse at Beebe Hospital felt compelled to do something about it.
So she did. She picked up a needle and thread and learned how to sew. She knew others out there already had those skills, so she started the Help for Healthcare Workers Facebook group. In a matter of days, it surpassed 800 members, many of whom are Delawareans volunteering their time to sew masks.
"I honestly had no idea it would become this....but it makes me feel great that we have a wonderful community in there. Everyone is just working so well together, and helping each other, and sharing best practices. When somebody new comes on and asks questions, they help...it's just become really cooperative in there, and it's a really neat thing to see," she told WDEL's Rick Jensen Show Wednesday.
The group is making fabric masks--not the N95 masks, which is what the Centers for Disease Control recommends is used for nurses and doctors to prevent spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends when N95 masks are not available, and they're becoming scarce, homemade masks are used as a "last resort" in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front from the chin or below as well as the sides of its face, according to its website.
You can read more about the difference between a surgical mask and a N95 mask by clicking here.
"[Cloth face masks] can be very helpful to help preserve the N95 masks, and they can also be used for folks who, maybe, are in less need of the N95s, or they also are helping to remind folks not to touch their mouth and their face," said Barnekov-Short.
Barnekov-Short said many members of the group were already into sewing and have stockpiles of materials. But for those who don't, Barnekov-Short provides $25 stipends via Venmo to volunteers for materials and has also received donations to help with that effort. The owner of Sew What! on Kirkwood Highway has been providing supplies, too, while others are coordinating--while social distancing--to get what they need.
"It's working out really well. A nursing home may have a window of time where they're handing out supplies, and social distance."
She said nursing homes and assisted living facilities are most in need of the masks.
"Many of them are running extremely low on their supplies and have told me they'll be out in a week or two, which is super concerning with the vulnerable population that they have," she said.
Barnekov-Short said she's amazed by the number of masks people are pumping out--with a single volunteer making as many as 75 at a time.
"As they do it, they get faster and faster at doing it. I think we've gotten quite a lot out--it's not nearly enough--the demand is so huge right now, that it's greater than our capacity, so that's why I'm really asking your listeners, if you're able to sew please join our group."
"If you're capable of learning to sew--which was my case--I did not sew. You can learn to make these. the basic one is very simple, it's a rectangle, flipped inside out, pleated with an elastic on the side or some ties--it's not a hard pattern," she said. "I'm just really hoping we can expand our group an expand the capacity so we can help get more of these masks out."
She added, it's a good use of your time while we're all under stay-at-home orders from the governor to put your sewing skills to the test or learn a new skill.
"This has given people something to do--they feel like they're doing something for their community. So I think rather than sitting home and just feeling helpless, they can actually contribute."