Home Our Diocese Delaware residents pitch in to help make masks for beleaguered healthcare workers

Delaware residents pitch in to help make masks for beleaguered healthcare workers

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Abbie Townsend and her mother, Rebecca, have been making masks at their north Wilmington home. Abbie is a junior at St. Elizabeth High School. (Photo courtesy of St. Elizabeth School)

A group of Delawareans, many of whom have never met in person, has banded together to help out the beleaguered healthcare industry during a trying period.

Nearly 2,000 people joined the Facebook group Help for Healthcare Workers Delaware in fewer than 10 days. One of the founders, Kristin Barnekov-Short, has a daughter who is an intensive-care nurse at Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, and she Barnekov-Short wanted to find a way to support her work.

Rowan Short, 22, is in her first year of nursing.

The owner of Sew What! on Kirkwood Highway in Wilmington is part of an effort to produce and deliver much-needed masks to healthcare workers. (Dialog photo/Mike Lang)

“It has been an absolute whirlwind,” Barnekov-Short said from her Brandywine Hundred home earlier this week. “I think it’s because people feel a little bit hopeless at home and want to do something.”

What members are doing is making masks for healthcare workers. It is an effort that has taken some doing.

One of the keys in the endeavor has been Bunni Bodan, the owner of Sew What! on Kirkwood Highway in Wilmington. Bodan is using her connections in the fabric industry to secure materials, which are sent out to volunteers, who are making the masks.

“Whatever I can do as a shop owner,” Bodan said. “I have supplies. I have machines. I’ve had customers buy fabric that I can turn around and donate.”

Bodan opened Sew What! nearly 18 months ago, but the coronavirus pandemic has put her normal business on hold. She sells sewing machines, patterns and supplies, and she holds classes and events. When the state ordered all non-essential businesses to close, she obtained a variance that allows her to remain open for her emergency work.

“To me, this is currently like a win-win. I’m able to give back to the community. We’re kind of working with everybody’s budget,” Bodan said.

Bodan also has loaned out a half-dozen sewing machines to volunteers.

St. Elizabeth High School junior Abbie Townsend and her mother, Rebecca, got involved after seeing Facebook posts from Help for Healthcare Workers Delaware. They are making masks for a facility near their home in north Wilmington.

“Abbie and I have been involved in sewing projects together for years, making costumes for the many performances that she has been involved in” Rebecca Townsend said. “When we discovered this cause, we knew it was a great way we could do something to help during this very difficult time. It has been a wonderful experience working together to help others.”

Help for Healthcare Workers Delaware is not making the N95 masks, which require certain equipment. These are fabric masks that could be used by less essential personnel, Barnekov-Short said. Some have pockets that could hold a filter. Bodan said volunteers could also make mask covers.

Barnekov-Short said the amount of personal protective equipment at Beebe is dwindling, and “it seems to me that it’s not a matter of if they’re going to run out of stuff. It’s when they’re going to run out of stuff. The idea of my daughter having nothing is terrifying to me.”

When she started the group, Barnekov-Short figures she would make some masks for her daughter and the other personnel on her unit. That changed in a hurry.

“The fortunate thing is that we got very organized very quickly, which helped us a lot. We are very focused, and we work very strategically to complete requests from different facilities,” she said.

Some of the places that have received or will receive the products are the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Newark, A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington and Christiana Care in Stanton. Bodan said the Delaware Humane Association also will get some. All told, about two dozen facilities have had requests fulfilled.

According to Barnekov-Short, the group distributed almost 6,000 masks in its first 10 days. They have volunteers to sew the masks and drive them around. They are keeping to masks right now.

“What we realize is that we can’t do it all, and there’s a dire need for masks,” she said.

Donations to the effort are appreciated. Contact Bodan at Sew What! at contact@sewwhatde.com for details.