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The Lifeline

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"All The Best Heroes Wear A Mask"

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And throughout Seminole County, other groups of heroes made sure those masks kept coming

When the coronavirus crisis hit the United States, the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers soon became all too apparent. Industrious groups and individuals across the country quickly stepped up to help, sewing handmade face masks for nurses, doctors, first responders, and others in need. Seminole County has been no exception, with folks volunteering to make masks for local hospitals, police departments, and other essential workers, as well as for friends and family.

We’d like to introduce you to several local groups and individuals who have been using their considerable sewing skills for the good of the community

A Saintly Pursuit
When the congregation at St. Stephen Lutheran Church was asked to make face masks for local medical workers, its members sprang into action.

Lead pastor Peter Morey issued a call to action in March, challenging the Longwood church members to sew 1,000 masks for Orlando Face Mask Strong (OFMS), which donates the items to healthcare heroes and other essential care workers in Orange and Seminole counties.

“These heroes and warriors are already wearing their capes and rushing to save us,” Peter wrote about frontline workers in his plea to the church. “Let’s do our part by staying home and making them masks, because all the best heroes wear a mask.”
The church met that challenge and then some. By the end of May, a small group of church members had made 2,200 masks, plus straps and headbands to hold them in place, says Adrienne Barton, who coordinated the project.

“The sewing group at St. Stephen was very impressive and took on this challenge with such dedication,” she says.

Adrienne is especially invested in the mask-making movement and with good reason. She and her husband, Casey, both had long careers in the healthcare industry. Adrienne worked at hospitals for 30 years as an administrator, and Casey was an orthopedic surgeon. Their daughter, Bonnie Lewis, is the founder of Orlando Face Mask Strong, which aims to produce and donate 100,000 face masks to Central Florida care providers during the pandemic. Recipients have included medical staff at AdventHealth, Orlando Health, COVID-19 test sites, plus community groups and organizations such as Meals on Wheels.
In addition to making masks, the congregants at St. Stephen were asked to donate nonwoven polypropylene bags, which were repurposed and used as material for making masks. Church members responded in droves, with a final tally of 700 to 800 bags.

“The whole church just went all in,” Adrienne says. “It was really, really amazing.”

Just Keep Sewing
At times, Longwood resident Laura Proctor and her fellow mask makers have felt like Dory the fish from the popular animated movie, Finding Nemo.

“You know how Dory would ‘just keep swimming, just keep swimming?’ We just keep sewing, just keep sewing,” says Laura, president of the Central Florida Costumers Guild.

Laura and a few other guild members are among the many volunteers who are sewing masks for Orlando Face Mask Strong. As of the end of May, OFMS had donated 20,000 masks, with that number continuing to rise.

Ann Chartier, who lives in east Apopka, is another guild member sewing for OFMS. Her Seminole County home also serves as an area hub for dropping off finished face masks and picking up supplies to craft more.

“I do this to give back to the community and help fill the gap where masks are desperately needed,” Ann says.

Laura, who sews professionally, feels a certain obligation to put her skill set to charitable use during the pandemic.

“Community effort and rallying together are helping us get through this,” Laura says. “Especially during the early days of the crisis, this was something we could do to just keep moving and feel like we were helping.”

To learn more about the Central Florida Costumers Guild, go to CFLCostumers.com.

Ladies Liberty
Liberty Christian Church members Iraida Aponte and Swidy Cruz are on-the-go types who are not accustomed to being idle. To keep busy and help others during the lockdown, the Casselberry residents contacted their church leaders and offered to sew face masks for first responders.

“This time of staying at home and quarantining has been a challenge,” says Ben Artreche, administrative pastor of the Casselberry church. “Our members were wanting to put their hands to work and do something for the community.”

Thanks to the efforts of Iraida, Swidy, and other helpers, the church donated 50 handmade face masks to Casselberry police officers in April.

“Chief Larry Krantz and the Casselberry Police Department are so thankful to these ladies for the support they offer,” the agency posted on its Facebook page. “A community like ours makes work so much easier and more enjoyable.”

Since then, Ben says, the church members have made another 25 masks for a senior living home.

“Wherever there’s a need, we’re going to reach out,” Ben says. “It’s very cool to see folks coming together as a community.”

Gathering the Guild
Patty Mack has been sewing since the age of 10, when she used a Singer pedal pusher machine to craft clothes for her Barbie dolls. These days, the Winter Springs resident has been putting her creative skills to use for more pressing needs.

Patty, who has sewn for 50-plus years, is a member of the American Sewing Guild (ASG) - Orlando Chapter. This spring, chapter members banded together to make face masks and scrub caps for Central Florida frontline heroes.

Sewing is something of a lost art, Patty says, but the pandemic has shown how valuable these old-fashioned abilities can be.
“Sewists from all over the country have flocked to sewing stores, ordered fabric online, watched YouTube videos, dug their old machines out of the closet, purchased new and used ones, and now want to sew,” Patty says.

Dawn Vanderwolf, who is also a member of the Orlando chapter, sewed when she was a teenager, but set the hobby aside until recently because of the demands of marriage, children, and work.

“People who sew make up a small percentage of the entire population,” says Dawn, who lives in Winter Springs. “This is a skill that I have that allows me to give back to the community in a time of need.”

As of the end of May, ASG Orlando had made 2,064 masks and 573 scrub caps, says Gloria Schilling, who has coordinated the group’s efforts. The items have been donated to employees of Orlando Health, AdventHealth, and Nemours Children’s Health System, as well as to National Guard nurses at the COVID-19 testing site at the Orange County Convention Center, among others.

Even folks who don’t know how to sew have helped, Dawn says. For example, some volunteers cut fabric from patterns by hand or used laser printers to do the same task, which saves the mask makers a time-consuming step. Others generously donated money to purchase fabric and other supplies.

“There are all kinds of people who are involved and doing whatever they can,” says Dawn. “It takes a village, right?”

For details about the American Sewing Guild - Orlando Chapter, go to ASGOrlando.com.

To learn more about Orlando Face Mask Strong, visit Facebook.com/groups/OrlandoFacemaskStrong.

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