In a regular week, Marissa Melakian’s day might include teaching craft classes and running a savings blog. Todd Smith works as chief investigator for the Lubbock County district attorney’s office. Tiffany Edwards is a home health nurse.
But, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shortage of personal protective equipment, these three Lubbock residents, among countless others, have taken on a new role: making and donating homemade masks.
Various local groups, including Face Masks for Lubbock and the Junior League of Lubbock, have recruited volunteers throughout the region who can sew, cut fabric and more to help the cause.
“I feel like we’ve raised a little, like, miniature army to help,” Melakian, a volunteer with the Junior League of Lubbock, said. “I mean, that’s really what it feels like. It’s been awesome just seeing everybody wanting to pitch in and do what they can to help get our healthcare workers extra masks.”
Although the homemade facial coverings made by these groups are not substitutes for surgical masks or N95 respirators needed by healthcare workers, they can serve as protective covers to extend the life of already existing personal protective equipment.
“I would wear (a homemade facial covering) over my surgical mask so I can make the limited supply of surgical masks that we have last that much longer,” Dr. Ronald Cook said in a City of Lubbock press conference last week. “So if I can have a pre-filter, let’s say of a facial covering over my surgical mask, that’s going to make this one last much longer.”
Additionally, homemade masks are recommended for use by the general public to slow the spread of the virus and to prevent individuals who may not know they have COVID-19 from transmitting the disease to others, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
One of the early local groups to begin making these masks was Face Masks for Lubbock. Started by Edwards, it is an entirely volunteer, non-profit philanthropy group that serves to provide homemade face masks for medical personnel and other front line groups in Lubbock county.
Face Masks for Lubbock began on March 21 and has grown to incorporate 1200 members, Edwards said. Together, they have made over 2000 face masks.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response from our community volunteers who have jumped on board donating their time, their efforts, their materials out of their own personal closets,” Edwards said said.
Helping to coordinate this group is an administration board including Edwards, Nicole Pennington, Jessica Young and Patricia H. Hawley, a professor in the Texas Tech College of Education.
The group, which is part of the Volunteer Center of Lubbock, allows volunteers to sign up for specific roles such as sewing or cutting fabric, Edwards said. Those wanting to sew can then provide more information about their skill set before being sent mask kits.
The mask kits have ten to twenty masks volunteers can sew. Once completed, volunteers can drop the masks in drop boxes before picking up more kits. Prior to being distributed, the masks go through a quality check, are washed and dried and then repackaged, Edwards said.
“There’s no prior experience required (to join Face Masks for Lubbock),” Edwards said. “We are looking for the expert seamstresses, but even somebody at the beginner level, if they have their own sewing machine we have a simple mask pattern along with a video tutorial to help them get started."
The need for homemade masks among healthcare workers, first responders, essential workers and even members of the community who are elderly or immuno-compromised is great, Edwards said. The group has over 2600 requests for masks on its current list.
Helping to meet this need is another local organization: the Junior League of Lubbock. Over 30 volunteers within the Junior League of Lubbock have been recruited to help prepare materials and sew masks to be donated to healthcare workers, Melakian said.
Melakian, who has a sewing machine and fabric, became involved when she saw a report on people making homemade masks, she said. After finding a simple pattern, she began working.
“I have the materials and the skillset to do it, and it was more of a why not do it if I’m sitting at home anyways with the materials and the skills to be able to do it,” she said. “I would feel more guilty not being able to provide them, I guess.”
The sewing process for the masks is relatively simple, taking 6-7 minutes per mask, she said. Additional time is needed to cut the fabric, but she has been able to get help in doing so from Smith.
Smith owns a laser cutter engraver machine, which he had previously used to cut fabric to help with a quilting project, he said. Since he had the equipment, he reached out, and from there, was able to begin bulk-cutting the fabric for the masks.
As of last week, he has picked up 75 yards of material from the Junior League of Lubbock, he said, enough for 1500 masks. With the laser cutter engraver machine, he was able to cut 860 pieces under 2 hours.
“We’ve done quite a few here lately trying to take the cutting away from the folks that are doing the sewing, because cutting takes us about the same time as sewing, so if we can let the sewers sew and if me or somebody else is cutting, that takes a big amount of time off and they can be focusing on what’ they’re doing,” he said.
As of last week, Melakian had made more than 100 masks, and was made aware of more than 200 masks that were needed, she said.
Melakian is working with Sharon Robinson, a member of the Junior League of Lubbock, who is helping to distribute the masks. In an emailed statement, Robinson said the masks will be donated to the TTUHSC Mask Drive.
“We expect to continue sewing and distributing the masks over the next few weeks to TTUHSC with the assistance of our Junior League of Lubbock members,” Robinson said in the emailed statement.
There will hopefully be a time when mask production by manufacturers catches up to the current demand, but in this moment, it is not there, Smith said. Until then, the only way for it to get done is in the community.
“What other choice do we have?,” he said. “I mean, everybody that can play a part is going to have to do so, and I think most people would, you know, if they have a way.”
In addition to individual community members, local businesses have also supported the efforts to make homemade masks, Edwards said, donating materials or services to Face Masks for Lubbock.
Slate Group and Unity in Glass have bulk cut material for the sewing kits, Pattys Heart has provided discounted fabric and help with sewing, J Hoffman and Kendra Scott, owned by Courtney Wicks and family, have donated over 500 bandanas as well as jewelry, Cat Co Iron Works have donated steel drop boxes and Comet Cleaners is helping with the washing and drying of face masks.
If individuals want to join Face Masks for Lubbock or donate materials such as sewing machines, cutting tools and 100% tightly woven cotton fabric, they can find more information at http://getconnected.volunteerlubbock.org/agency/detail/FaceMasks4LBK/
“It’s going to take a village to overcome the challenges we are facing in these perilous times,” Edwards said.