Katie Roberts, Maryland Advocate
When the first COVID-19 case was reported in Maryland my first thought was, “How can I help people through this?” A friend shared a photo of surgical masks she’d made for a hospital and I knew then this would be my purpose for the foreseeable future. To date, more than 200 masks have been donated to hospitals, infusion centers, hospice centers, nursing homes, and friends and family members.
And Sew it Began
I contacted my local hospitals to see if they were accepting DIY masks. They provided two approved patterns, indicated the masks needed to be made of 100% cotton, and gave me directions on where and how to schedule the donations when I had 20 masks. Alternatively, the hospital indicated I could coordinate a donation drop-off with my local crafts store.
The approved patterns were a traditional surgical masks-shaped pattern and a more fitted mask to mimic the N95 respirators. Once I had the patterns, I started scouring the house for any cotton fabric and elastic I had from old projects. I had enough fabric to make a few sample masks but no elastic or ribbon for people to affix the masks. With limited supplies, I had to get creative with how I was going to make these masks. One of the patterns called for ponytail holders, so I set out to find every elastic band I had; I even asked friends to drop off their unused elastics.
I set up shop in my dining room, right next to my new work-from-home office space. After completing my first mask, I was so excited I stayed up until 2 a.m. cutting fabric for the first 20 masks. The next morning I sat at my sewing machine for 6 hours straight, until I ran out of fabric.
I posted pictures of the first few masks on social media and the messages started rolling in. I was so excited to see so many others in my network who were also sewing masks! We started comparing notes, sharing where we could purchase supplies, if we knew of any sales on fabrics and our masterpieces. Our sewing brigade went into full effect.
After my first 20 masks, I realized I could do a little bit in the mornings, at lunch, the evenings, and on weekends. Before I knew it, I had completed 50 masks. I dropped off my first donations and couldn’t wait to get home to make more. When I received a confirmation email from one of the hospitals saying they’d received my masks, I realized this sewing project was more than just providing personal protective equipment to the hospitals.
Lifeline to Purpose
As someone who has lived with psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis for the majority of my life, I understand the need to take care of my personal health, including mental health. The time behind the sewing machine left little time to think about COVID-19. I went from having several anxiety attacks a day about COVID-19 to zero in only a few days of sewing.
After sharing my accomplishments on social media, something really cool happened. It started with a friend who is a nurse. She asked for some masks. Then a friend in Florida who is going through breast cancer asked for me to send her some masks as she recovers from surgery. An infusion center in Virginia reached out asking to purchase masks for patients. I couldn’t justify anyone paying for my masks — if someone is in need and I have the means to make it available, I will do just that. After another friend begged to pay me for masks for her daughter who just underwent brain surgery, I sent her a link to my Walk to Cure Arthritis team fundraising page. When she made a donation, I realized this new purpose was not just helping the community at large, but also a fundraising vehicle.
In a time of crisis, when anxiety is high, we all look to unique ways to destress. For me, that became sewing masks. With more than $300 in donations to date, and over 200 masks distributed, I will continue to sew masks until there is no longer a need.
“All you can do is all you can do. But all you can do is enough.” – Art Williams
For the first time ever, Walk to Cure Arthritis events are combining for a unified virtual event on May 16. Now is the time to support the 50 million Americans living with arthritis.
I encourage you to find your “all you can do” to support your arthritis community. Whether it’s starting a fundraising team or asking friends and family to join you for a virtual walk, we can all do something.