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Upper Valley residents make use of isolation time by sewing health care masks

  • Volunteer Keith Merrick, 74, of Post Mills, Vt., makes masks for medical workers at his dining room table on March 23, 2020. Merrick said he started making them when he didn't have one to wear while going out of the house for neccessary shopping. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Photographed on March 23, 2020, volunteer Keith Merrick, of Post Mills, Vt., has made over a dozen masks to give to friends and medical workers, helping to fill in for a shortage of them. Many others across the Upper Valley are doing the same. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/23/2020 9:16:35 PM
Modified: 3/23/2020 9:16:31 PM

LEBANON — On Saturday morning, Kim Avery saw on Facebook that Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center was looking for people to sew masks to be used at the Lebanon-based medical center.

By the end of the weekend, she had made 56 of them.

“I’m going to continue until I hear they don't need anymore,” Avery said.

The Enfield resident is one of dozens (perhaps hundreds) of people throughout the Upper Valley and beyond who are sewing masks after learning that the medical center fears it will run low on the masks that health care workers use to treat people who have, or are suspected to have, COVID-19. It is a movement that is taking place in communities around the country.

“It’s been amazing and incredibly uplifting in the midst of some very hectic days,” said Kristin Roth, director of volunteer services at DHMC. “It gives them a way to contribute when they’re doing the thing that will help health care workers and their community members the most” by staying home. 

The homesewn masks will not be used for health care workers who are treating patients who have the novel coronavirus. But employees who do not have as much patient-to-patient interaction, such as pharmacy staff, can wear them, as well as people who are coming to DHMC and regularly take masks provided at the front desk, for example.

“This will allow us to redeploy the medical masks we have to frontline workers and give people something that can serve the same purpose in a lot of ways,” Roth said. “Our goal is that we serve all our facilities across the system.”

Keith Merrick, of Post Mills, started making masks a couple days ago and since then made more than a dozen. 

“I’m not a very good sewer, but I think they've said you can get it down to 20 minutes,” Merrick said 

Merrick has made curtains in the past, “but I wouldn't know how to make a shirt or a suit but give me something straight and square and I can handle it,” he said. “I don't do this as a hobby. I do this out of necessity.”

After the masks are made, they can be dropped off Dartmouth-Hitchcock Service Center, Green Warehouse, 50 LaBombard Road, from 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

A Facebook group called UV Mask Makers has also popped up where people can ask for advice or offer supplies and help. 

“We will wash every item before it comes in, sanitized through the processes that we use here,” Roth said, adding that, depending on how the masks hold up, they will be reused after being washed after each use. 

The pattern provided by DHMC is relatively simple and straightforward. It involves cutting two rectangles of fabric — 100% unused cotton fabric for the front and 100% cotton or cotton flannel for the back — and sewing elastic in it with some pleats so that it fits comfortably over someone’s face.

While DHMC is requesting that people use white elastic, they will take masks that use black. The masks can be made in three different sizes — child, adult and large adult. DHMC plans to have kits available for people to pick up and will post information online about how to get them once they’re available, Roth said. Sewers are asked to stick to the pattern provided.

“Anybody who knows how to use a sewing machine can do this,” Melissa Herman, of Hanover said, while working on a mask. 

Herman, a psychology professor at Dartmouth College who is working on converting her courses to online-only, had made about 24 as of Monday morning.

Herman said each mask takes her about 10 minutes to make and she’s been working on them “in spare moments when I'm talking on the phone or when I need a break from when I'm sitting at my computer,” she said. “It's a way to help. It’s a way to feel like you're doing something even though you're stuck at home. It's a great way to get rid of scraps of fabric that you don't know what to do with anymore.”

Businesses throughout the Upper Valley have also started to get involved. Efran Lebron, who owns Got It Covered Upholstery in Woodstock, has set a goal of mak ing 2,000 masks, after learning one his main supplier s wo  uld be unable to send him the  material he needs to complete work for his clients.

 “When I was put into a halt with the supply company, I went home and was contemplating what I was going to do,” he said. Lebron had just expanded his business from his farmhouse to a new spot near Worthy Kitchen in December.

So he decided to turn his new workspace into a mask-making studio and started a GoFundMe page to raise money for supplies, quickly reaching his $1,000 in a day. 

“I told myself if I go down, I go down doing something for the community,” Lebron said during a return trip from the JoAnn fabrics and crafts store in West Lebanon where he purchased 30 yards of flannel fabric. “We’re going to make masks until we can’t anymore.”

DHMC’s request prompted Jen Krom, of Wilder, to look through her stash of fabric to see what she could use to make masks. Her part-time job is on hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic and she is helping her two middle school-aged sons with their online school assignments.

“This is something that keeps me not only busy, but useful,” Krom said. “It's one thing to be stuck at home but it doesn't really feel useful to just isolate, even though it's necessary. … When you don’t have anything to see as a tangible result it's not as satisfying. X number of masks is very satisfying.”

Krom, like Roth, is inspired by the amount of people stepping up to sew masks. 

“It's almost like it's going back to the phrase ‘it takes a village.’ I think we're going back to the village, the neighborhood. Checking on each other. I really hope that when all this shakes out we’ve turned a corner for good,” Krom said. 

Editor’s note: For more information on sewing masks, visit https://www.dartmouth-hitchcock.org/patient-education/sewing-masks.html or call 603-650-4217. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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