Our Sew Loved Masks Project #SLMasks

First, a little background… By about March 5th watching the news about the Covid19 pandemic, I was sure that we were going to see widespread infections in the U.S. and chronic shortages of medical resources.
I was watching the progression in China and Italy in particular. On March 10 I had outpatient foot surgery and was sentenced to my lazy-boy with my foot in the air for 3-4 weeks and with limited mobility for the next few months. Out of an abundance of caution Sew Loved closed all programs on March 12. We most certainly do not regret that decision although we have not been able to reopen.
Our Open Sewing Ladies and Students were very disappointed, but supportive. The common thread in all my discussions with them and our volunteers was that we should be able to help with the PPE shortage with our pool of home sewers. In researching the need, we determined that we wanted to focus on Medical personnel, first responders and essential city/county workers. This meant that we had to find a fabric that would block the virus from getting through to the worker.
By March 19 we had an initial plan (that honestly got revised many times as our knowledge grew) and posted it on our FB page at facebook.com/sewlovedinc. We simply asked sewers to answer the post if they were interested in helping in sewing or non-sewing roles. We privately hoped that we could get enough of our loyal following to step up and we might be able to produce 5,000 or so masks.
Whoops! We WAY underestimated the response and within days had 100’s of responses. It seems that everyone was feeling somewhat helpless and wanted a way to help. I panicked! I had no way to manage this many sewers, let alone be able to afford the fabric for a huge project.
And then our savior contacted me; Daniel Courier of Ram Management Services in Carmel emailed on March 20. He had seen our project on Facebook and had a vision for a web portal to manage sewers, provide sewing instruction and manage requests from the community for the masks. In record time, he had launched the site with a basic signup form and general information. Over time he expanded this to include all our patterns, instructional videos, a support forum, a mechanism for Requests for Masks, and full reporting for all of us trying to manage the “monster” that we’d created.
Sara Crain stepped up and took over social media, media contacts and fund raising via our Facebook and Twitter pages. She saved my sanity! Because of her excellence, we continued to raise the money we needed to buy the fabric, pay for “robotic” cutting of the mask kits and postage to/from our sewers.
And then there is Pam Duerksen, the co-founder of Sew Loved and my dearest friend/sister since 1969! Pam battled through the many iterations of our patterns, tested them, wrote all the instructional material and taped all the teaching videos. She is a teacher-extraordinaire.
In no time at all we had registered almost 700 people on the site; 400, from across the country went on to sew masks, others became sorters, packers, mailers, delivery people and fulfillment organizers.
But NONE OF IT would have happened without everyone who donated to the project. You ALL really stepped it up and almost $45,000 was raised to pay for material, cutting, supplies, mailing materials, postage as well as overhead for SL.
On March 24, the first 1000 masks went out to sewers, our Rosies, and it never stopped.
Just a few of the other heroes of #SLMasks include:
• Tom Haines, 9 in Motion in Mishawaka, who cut mask components
• Jon Yoder, Veada in New Paris, who cut mask components
• Larry Davis ran materials, supplies, and mask parts back and forth and back again between all the many sites
• Alan Chamblee (Steel Warehouse) used his trucks to get material from Chicago and deliver it to the cutters and then the cut parts to the mail house
• Jim Scott and David Berger from OnLine Data offered their facility and services to package and mail the mask kits to sewer as well as receiving the returned kits
• Glenda Lamont and Teresa Naomai led the team that worked out of OnLine with their staff and our volunteers to count and pack the kits for mailing, and coordinate deliveries to local sewers As well, Glenda continues to pick up returned masks, sort and pack them for distribution
• Numerous medical personnel from various facilities that guided us in the selection of appropriate material and mask design
• …and so many more 100s of people that I could never name them all…
And the Sewers! Oh, my! Together “Our Rosies” have made and distributed about 85,000 masks with the last additional 5000 still being completed. Over 70 medical organizations, first responder groups and essential worker companies have received masks. Thanks and tributes continue to pour in.
It’s a “wrap”! We made the decision a few weeks ago that it’s time to wind down this massive #SLMasks project. Many things contributed to that decision; the increasing difficulty to get appropriate fabric on a predictable basis, cutters whose businesses have reopened, exhausted sewers, and decreasing donations. Also the focus has now changed; the entities that we were targeting are increasingly able to acquire their own PPE. Now cotton facemasks are needed by the community-at-large and children returning to the classrooms. Several of our sewing partners have stepped up in a big way to meet those needs; you can find links to their projects on our Facebook page.
And now Sew Loved is continuing in the fight against the pandemic on a different front. Because of the #SLMasks project we were invited to be one of the sewing production shops to produce N95 masks for the State of Indiana. These are used for medical and first responder personnel that cannot secure enough masks through their normal channels, as well as for building a State stockpile so that they don’t again get caught with not being able to secure supplies in an emergency situation. The goal is to utilize all Indiana businesses and supplies as much as is possible.
This project has enabled Sew Loved to continue its mission to teach sewing, build self-confidence through new learned skills, train students for high-demand jobs, and directly employ students. Although we are not able to teach in our normal program format, this opportunity has enabled us to pay overhead to keep Sew Loved alive, teach valuable skills and employ our trainees. We hope through the revenue from this contract to also be able to expand our facility for the day we can reopen and be able to train even larger groups of students.
And so… we are Winding Down but Not Saying Goodbye. Follow us and keep in touch with us through our Facebook page as we navigate this challenging time. We look forward to the day when we can have a big open house at Sew Loved and celebrate our #SLMask successes together.
With much Gratitude and Love,
Vicki Miles, Director
Sew Loved Womens Center
251 E Sample St, STE 100
South Bend, IN 46601