CORONAVIRUS

Cedar Rapids volunteer seamstresses respond to call for cloth masks

St. Luke's, Mercy Medical Center among hospitals calling for donations

Kathryn Huang sews face masks at her home in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, March 22, 2020. Huang owns Odd Blonde Duck Designs
Kathryn Huang sews face masks at her home in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, March 22, 2020. Huang owns Odd Blonde Duck Designs and followed a pattern posted online. (Photo by Michael Huang)
/

Theatre Cedar Rapids costume department volunteers should be working on elaborate head pieces and alterations to costumes for dancers for the community theater’s production of “Kinky Boots” this week. But with the show postponed, the seamstresses have found another effort to lend their skills to — sewing masks for local hospitals.

“The health care workers are on the front lines of our war. They need all the help they can get,” TCR costume director Joni Sackett said. “This is something we can do.”

She sent an email to about 20 theater volunteers to organize the effort late last week as hospitals around the area, including UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital and Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, started putting out calls for the cloth masks.

Though neither hospital has a shortage of protective face masks yet, that could change very quickly if there is a surge of patients due to the coronavirus.

Other Iowa hospitals, such as Regional Medical Center in Manchester, also have publicly asked for the masks.

As they can be washed, the masks can cover N-95 masks to help extend their use. They could also be used in lower risk situations by some hospital employees and by visitors, Mercy Medical Center said in a news release.

Laura Sagers, a 57-year-old Cedar Rapids resident, is a Mercy Medical Center volunteer who helped jump-start an effort last Tuesday with a group of four or five people after she made phone calls to a handful of fellow volunteers. Word quickly spread, and Sagers estimates at least 250 were involved by the weekend.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I may be making the phone calls, but it’s so far beyond me. It’s a huge community volunteer effort. Just thinking about it really gets me choked up,” she said.

On Monday morning, Mercy Medical Center had received nearly 1,000 face masks from volunteers, including more than 300 dropped off by Sagers — and based on calls to the volunteer department, they anticipate they will receive more than 3,000 masks by the end of the week.

“I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg as far as what’s happening with effort. There’s many more people involved with this than what we even realize,” she said.

One of those is Kathryn Huang, owner of Odd Blonde Duck Designs in Cedar Rapids. Her sewing and alterations business mostly has dried up with weddings on hold, along with the conventions for which she often sews costumes.

So she and her daughters turned their attention to making masks.

She’s been emailing with others in a regular sewing circle, who have jumped on board. She said many of them are quilters who already have plenty of material on hand.

“I’m sure most of us sewers have enough to put masks on every person we know and then some,” she said. “I don’t want to make it for me, I don’t need it for myself, but I’m definitely eager to make them for the hospitals or anywhere who will take them.”

For those who want to help but don’t have fabric at home, Cedar Rapids craft store the Create/Exchange owner Jennifer Stewart handed out bags of fabric, thread and elastic over the weekend. She has about 50 bags left so may do another giveaway this weekend.

To encourage social distancing, the shop has been closed since March 16, so she was handing out bags outside the store.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

A former nurse, she said she felt compelled to help. She accepted cash donations from some people, but mostly gave the material away free.

“In two days we gave out about 200 yards of fabric and 100 spools of thread,” she said. “It’s hard not having any income and giving out inventory, but we just felt it was the right thing to do.”

She and other volunteer sewers emphasized the effort is important, but even more so is the need for social distancing to keep infection levels in the community down.

“I just think if we all work together, we’re going to get through this,” she said.

During the 2008 flood, Sagers said, people could go out and help fill sandbags and place sandbags where the floodwaters threatened to overtake the community. During this pandemic, there are no sandbags to be placed to prevent people from becoming ill.

“The mask is almost like the sandbag of this crisis,” she said.

“People can’t fill sandbags, they can hardly leave their house. But what they can do within their homes is something that is meaningful and helpful to the greater good.”

Completed masks may be dropped off at Mercy Medical Center, 701 10th St. SE, Cedar Rapids, by pulling up to the 10 Street entrance and putting the masks in a collection box, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. For questions regarding the collection or making of masks, email icorbin@mercycare.org. Instructions can be found at mercycare.org.

Masks for St. Luke’s may be dropped off in a box near the St. Luke’s Foundation, 855 A Ave. NE, Suite 105, weekends from 9 to 11 a.m. and during regular business hours on weekdays. The Foundation is in a medical office building across from St. Luke’s Hospital. Instructions can be found online here.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Comments: (319) 855-2392, alison.gowans@thegazette.com; (319) 368-8536, michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.