Local women making masks for frontline medical staffers

Posted 5/8/20

Flourtown resident Ellen Stevenson, who retired after serving as a hospital administrator for 27 years, has mobilized many women in the Chestnut Hill area who have so far made 1,200 masks for …

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Local women making masks for frontline medical staffers

Flourtown resident Ellen Stevenson, who retired after serving as a hospital administrator for 27 years, has mobilized many women in the Chestnut Hill area who have so far made 1,200 masks for medical personnel at Philadelphia area hospitals. (Photo by Len Lear)

by Barbara Sherf

When Flourtown resident Ellen Stevenson e-mailed her 400-member Indivisible Social Justice Group a few weeks ago seeking help for making and delivering masks, she clearly hit a chord with area volunteers who want to do something meaningful to combat the Covid-19 virus from further spread. 

Stevenson, a political activist, clearly has the background and leadership skills to form five teams of active mask makers. 

“People want to do something, so we can and should do what we can,” said Stevenson, a grandmother of twin boys who live in Chestnut Hill. She credits all the team members, including Wyndmoor resident Betsy Wallace, for her great organizational skills. Requests for the masks have come from hospitals, soup kitchens, home health agencies, senior centers and food banks. Some organizations want to buy the masks.

“The masks aren’t for sale, but any donations will go into making more masks. The food banks are really hurting now; I can tell you that for sure,” said Stevenson, who served as a hospital administrator for 27 years, retiring as a vice-president for regulatory affairs.

The five groups of 10-12 women in each group are using a project management system to inventory donations, commitments and delivery times. Two types of masks are being produced; one for healthcare workers and others for people who are not dealing directly with patients.

“The hospital mask is shaped to fit the face with 100 percent cotton on the inside and outside and an internal layer of non-woven, breathable fabric that acts as a barrier in between. Elastic ear loops and a wire inserted into the top of the mask allow the wearer to shape it to the bridge of the nose and cheeks,” said Stevenson. “We are really focusing right now on critical staffs like floor nurses, radiation oncologists and the people who are on the front lines.” 

The groups improved upon the mask patterns on the CDC web site with the help of women from two sewing businesses locally. Using her project management skills, Stevenson put out a survey to volunteers asking about their experience levels and formed teams that have an experienced sewer and project manager on each team to manage the quality control and inventory. 

“The mask project is going great guns, beyond my humble thoughts when I put the first email out to recruit sewing volunteers,” said Stevenson. “As in every new adventure, I meet wonderful, talented people who are making a difference … I was out today delivering 20 masks to the Jenkintown Food Cupboard and 25 to the Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels Director. They are so grateful to have masks for their volunteers. Now the big task is getting enough supplies to keep all the sewing volunteers sewing.”

Ken Yang, Managing Director of Penn Asian Senior Services recently received 50 masks, mostly for caregivers who are still going into homes to help seniors. “The quality and craftsmanship are really impressive,” said Yang. “Safety is the paramount issue, but they are reusable and are eco-friendly.  They can be hand-washed at night, air dried and ready for use the next day. We are very grateful to Ellen and her sewing teams for their work and time and giving back of themselves to this cause.”

Supplies such as 100 percent pre-washed cotton, 12-gauge floral wire, ¼ inch elastic (or from 1/9 to 3/8-inch wide) can be dropped off at 18 Rose Lane, Flourtown, PA 19031 or mailed there. 

“If donors can leave their name and contact information, I have been trying to personally write thank you cards to everyone and to add them to the mailing list,” said Stevenson, who is working with Springfield Township Commissioners Chairman Eddie T. Graham to involve students from the Carson Valley School (in Flourtown) to help write thank you notes to donors. “They wanted to make masks but it just didn’t seem possible at this time, so this is something they can do.” 

Sandy Folzer, a Rex Avenue resident who is within walking distance of Chestnut Hill Hospital, has been busy sewing at her grandmother’s 100-year-old year old Singer sewing machine on her dining room table. “It’s wonderful for me and true of other people making masks,” said Folzer. “It gives me purpose; I feel like I’m doing something to help the health professionals.” 

In addition to Chestnut Hill Hospital, masks have been dropped at Temple University Hospital, Bryn Mawr Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.  

“If some individual or organization wants to make a monetary donation to me by check or via Venmo,” said Stevenson, “we will put the money back into making more masks. And not everyone sews, but drivers are also needed and will be provided with their own masks to make deliveries.” 

Flourtown resident Barb Sherf can be reached at CommunicationsPro.com or capturelifestories@gmail.com 

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