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Strengthening the system: Local seamstresses band together to make face masks

By Staff | Apr 10, 2020

Jessie Ward, of Shepherdstown, drops off a bag of face masks at the Berkeley County Health Department last Friday. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Across the Eastern Panhandle, seamstresses have dusted off their sewing machines to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Each seamstress uses their own or donated materials to sew face masks, which they then place in plastic bags on their door knobs for pick-up every Thursday.

Those donations are then distributed on Fridays by volunteers who are not at high risk for developing life-threatening cases of COVID-19.

This past Friday, Shepherdstown resident Jessie Ward was one of three drivers dropping off the masks. As the founder of the WV EP Mask Effort Facebook group that started the face mask drive, Ward said she’s been excited to see that in its two weeks of existence, the number of participants has grown.

“This week we donated 303 masks, and last week, 191 masks were donated,” Ward said, mentioning that new face masks will need to be regularly sewn and donated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as the number of people needing them increases.

During the group’s first week in operation, 100 face masks were donated to the Martinsburg Union Rescue Mission, and the 91 remaining face masks were donated to the Berkeley County Health Department and to a dialysis center in Ranson. The 303 masks from the group’s second week were donated to the Jefferson County Health Department, Berkeley County Health Department, Canterbury Center and Willow Tree Healthcare Center.

“We want them out there, so they’ll be there when people need them. That’s why we’re giving them to the health departments, so they will be available when they’re needed,” Ward said, mentioning some health professionals cover their N95 masks with the handmade masks, to extend the lives of their N95 masks. The masks can stay clean, while any traces of bacteria or COVID-19 can be caught on the face masks, which can then be washed in hot water or steam ironed to kill any contaminants.

“I do include a piece of paper for a hashtag for our group. If people would like to post a picture of themselves with the hashtag of themselves wearing our masks, that would give us a lot of incentive,” Ward said of the group members. “My sewing machine has never been used so much!”

For those who can’t sew, but want to help the group, donations of cloth, elastic and money can be made by contacting the group through its Facebook page.

Those who want to donate the face masks they sew for direct use in Shepherdstown can drop off the masks in donation boxes at the Blue Moon Cafe and Shepherdstown Food Lion. Shepherdstown resident Diane Blust placed the boxes at both locations, which she hopes will be a way for anyone in the community who doesn’t have the ability to sew their own mask to be able to get one.