Tuesday, May 26, 2020
“Let us show the Valley how much we care”:
Home sewers rally to provide masks to our community

“When I saw that the CDC said when they run out of PPEs [personal protective equipment], to use scarves and bandannas, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” said retired oncology nurse Ruth Dennison of Morristown. “We’re going to kill people.”

That night she took to Facebook, asking, “To the nursing and physicians I worked with for nearly 30 years. Do you need masks sewn for the Lehigh Valley?” Then shortly before midnight, she made a Facebook group, Mask Force Sewing Community
Volunteers by the hundreds materialized, willing to sew, design, cut fabric, drive supplies, donate sewing machines, and do whatever was needed to produce masks for the Lehigh Valley’s major health care providers.

As the scale of the operation unfolded, Joann Fabrics donated a truckload full of fabric, and Northampton Community College’s Fab Lab stepped forward to create reproducible patterns and to cut the masks and elastic for thousands of “kits”.
Ruth recruited her family members to help, including her sister-in-law Wendy Magocs, an FPCB member. As the need for drop off / pick up sites developed, Wendy connected the fledgling group with her church community.

 That’s when FPCB became a part of this community-wide ministry, serving as a site three days a week for the sewers to drop off their completed masks and head home with the next batch of materials. As the volunteers were entering the building for their transactions, this was a task that involved our Facilities team.

“Rebecca (Angione, FPCB's facilities manager) was fantastic to work with,” said Wendy. “I think she had about two hours’ notice to get ready for us on that first day, and she and her team had everything set up and ready to go.”

As of last week, the group – which includes more than 2,000 sewers, drivers and donors - has officially tallied 18,000 masks given to front-line workers in the Lehigh Valley (although Ruth believes the true estimate could be over 20,000).
With inventories of commercially-made PPE on the upswing, the urgency for MaskForce 2020’s output has decreased and the scale of the operations has been reduced. FPCB stopped serving as a location two weeks ago, but the volunteers continue with their work. (If you are interested in helping, contact them at maskforce2020.com .)

Several FPCB members were among the volunteers, including Jane Masters, May Dudding (pictured, right), Leslie Pohl, Deb Philpotts and Judy Smullen (sorry if we missed anyone!).
Judy writes of the experience:

“The call to provide face masks to those serving on the front lines - health care workers first, but all those keeping our communities functioning, the grocery and postal workers, delivery drivers, trash and recycling collectors, etc. - has allowed me to be productive and useful.  

“As my mother-in-law next door is a quilter - and I've became one by default! - we have shelves full of fabric, many pieces too small for a quilt but just the right size for masks. 

“I've made nearly 400 of them, most recently in school colors for high school and college graduates. . . and by making the masks I've still been able to avoid cleaning those stuffed closets!”

One of the first batches of masks Judy produced went to the rescue squads in Washington and Whitehall (NJ). Pictured (below) is Greg Church - boyfriend of
FPCB staffer Cristy Mette, and an EMT with both squads – safely picking up the delivery from Judy’s front porch.
And a final word from J.C.:

One of our theological touchstones through this crisis has been “the Greatest Commandment” that Jesus identified: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
In saying this, Jesus made clear that not only do these two commandments summarize the entire witness of the Law and Prophets, but they are indivisible: you cannot love God without also loving your neighbor. 

We at FPCB are humbled by the dedication and love demonstrated by Mask Force 2020 in this time of great need, and we have been grateful for the chance to put our own love for God and our neighbor into action in a new and powerful way through this partnership.
Parts of this piece were adapted from an article that appeared in the March 24, 2020 Morning Call, written by Kayla Dwyer.