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Women Dust Off Sewing Machines And Get To Work


Alene Topping cuts hundreds of pieces of elastic for the masks.

Nothing to do during quarantine?

Make some masks!

That's what a bunch of Pottawatomie County women are doing. They've dusted off their sewing machines, corralled scrap fabric and elastic went to work.

One of those is Fran Topping, who is part of a group called Shawnee Area Home Sewn Face Mask Volunteers. She'd prefer to remain anonymous, but has used Facebook to help recruit more sewers, so she's out there.

"There are several different groups and teams and individuals working to make masks for area health care facilities," Topping said Monday, such as a Blue Zones group Miriam Bell is spearheading, independents working with Joann Fabrics, small groups sewing for specific facilities (i.e., Belfair Nursing Home, Prague Hospital).

"I can make 40-50 in a day if I have no other duties or tasks. I would estimate I'm probably a mid-level seamstress and I don't worry much about matching colors or fabrics or thread so there are people who are probably making more and people who have heavy workloads and can just do a few a day," she said. "We need every mask we can get ... People who don't sew are helping by cutting elastic, pinning, ironing, ferrying supplies, dropping off masks at facilities.

"In spite of hopeful news of more masks in the pipeline, the facilities we are talking to say they are already out, or will be out soon, and it is doubtful that there will be enough," Topping said. "We were mostly making them for visitors and outpatients at the hospitals, until nursing homes started asking. In some cases the elderly care facilities are having to use them for their staff. The CDC describes this as a last resort, but that is the reality one facility director gave me.

"If people want to help, they can contact me at [email protected] or Miriam Bell at [email protected] and we can help connect makers with facilities or supplies. The shortage WILL get worse, and we can use all the help we can get."

Topping was calling for donations of elastic last week. "We really need narrow elastic right now, cut in seven-inch pieces if possible. We have people sewing, but there are other ways to help. For instance, my mom cuts elastic and irons and cuts fabric and Craig (her husband, Craig MacIntyre) ferries supplies and delivers masks. A friend in Prague is working connecting elastic and fabric donors with those sewing and cutting."

Also taking time to sew face masks is Lauren Goode Bingham, a dental hygienist for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

"As a health care provider myself, I am fortunate enough to be able to put my career aside and place myself out of increased chance of harm's way," she said. "However, I definitely knew there had to be something I could do to support my friends in the medical field.

"Then last Tuesday I opened up my Facebook and saw a plea from THS 1995 classmate Julia White. Julia is a pediatrician in Corona, California, and sees many kids a day testing negative for flu but symptoms are cough/fever. But what struck was the part about having to reuse her mask day after day as the shortage is real - all the well knowing that is a thousand percent unacceptable in our world of OSHA. I knew helping solve that problem for her was what I needed to do. "

Each mask consists of four layers of fabric (which makes them washable) with an open pocket for removable filters (Bingham used allergenic/virus blocking AC filters cut up to fit).

"Between myself, my oldest daughter Caitlin, my youngest Emily who helps us iron and my mother in law Iva Bingham, we have produced together around 60 masks thus far, and have a large stack still to make," she said. "Since my posting sending to Julia, I have been able to start to help the ER staff at SSM St. Anthony's hospital, and a few medical staffs within the metro who are all in the same scary scenario as Julia is."

Bingham knows that "when dentistry is able to reopen, we too will be short on supplies, so I have plans to make sure my staff is covered until product accessibility becomes normal again."

If sewing masks doesn't work for you, there are many other ways to help. SSM St. Anthony's Shawnee needs several items. For safety reasons, all materials should be unopened and in their original packaging. Priority items include:

Hand sanitizer (individual and pump bottles)

Sanitizing/bleach wipes

Leesa Rosenbaum, of Bethel, finishes a mask with her trusted old sewing machine.

Alcohol pad wipes

Isopropyl alcohol

Goggles, face shields and safety glasses

Thermometers (display digital or forehead models)

Face masks, in particular N95 Medical Masks or NIOSH-certified N95 Respirators (such as painter's masks)

Additional medical supplies and personal protective equipment are also most appreciated including:

Latex gloves

Protective isolation gowns

When making donations, please be sure to practice social distancing. Bring them to the hospital at 1102 W. MacArthur, Shawnee, Monday-Friday 9 am – 3 pm. Call 405-878-8100 with questions or to make arrangements for drop-off or pick-up after hours.


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