Area volunteers are spending countless hours making proprietary form-fitting masks with filters to help decrease the spread of the often deadly COVID-19 virus.
The LanghornePA chapter of Days for Girls is coordinating the volunteer mask-making effort. Days for Girls, an international nonprofit relief organization, typically creates washable, handmade feminine hygiene packets for girls in more than 110 countries with limited facilities.
But Days for Girls took on a new endeavor called the Masks4Millions campaign in March as the coronavirus began to spread around the world. More than one million masks have been produced in the worldwide campaign thus far, said Steffie Spade, leader of the group’s LanghornePA team.
The local chapter’s first goal was to produce 500 masks, Spade said. The volunteers quickly realized that goal and keep making more masks as the group receives additional requests for them.
Since March 24th the volunteers have made and donated 21,249 masks locally and out-of-state to hospitals, medical offices and long-term care facilities, 9-1-1 call centers, police departments and rescue squads, non-profit relief organizations, schools and businesses, Spade said. The group also donates masks to individuals with underlying health issues.
In addition, the volunteers also are making 400 blue masks and 400 red masks for members of Neshaminy High School’s Class of 2020 to wear should the school have a graduation ceremony this year.
The volunteers expect to make 25,000 masks by the end of June, Spade said.
“My friend, Nan Bertone who is a nurse and has an occupational healthcare business in Florida, developed our proprietary pattern from CDC guidelines,” Spade said. “It is form-fitting, washable with a removable filter. Our mask was designed for the utmost safety.”
The masks come in regular and extra large adult sizes. There are also smaller-sized masks for children aged 7-12 and 3-6 years old, according to Spade. Each mask includes care instructions and suggested filter materials for filter replacement.
The local Days for Girls group typically has about 20 regular members but has increased during the pandemic to 156 volunteers from Bucks and Montgomery counties, Philadelphia and Titusville, New Jersey who are helping to produce the masks, she said.
The volunteers split up the tasks involved with making the masks. Some wash and dry donated fabric that is used to make the masks. Other volunteers serve as fabric cutters, assemblers, sewists, filter cutters, packers and shippers, Spade said.
Many of the volunteers are families who want to do something positive in the midst of pandemic.
That’s what motivates Kelli Kowalick and her mother, Robin Litwa, of Middletown.
“I feel like I am making a difference,” Kelli, 18, said. “Even if it is subtle it is empowering.”
Kelli has been volunteering with Days for Girls for two years as a way to earn community service hours while also playing soccer and basketball at Neshaminy High School. “The hours are flexible,” said the graduating Neshaminy High School senior who is tied for first in her class and is headed to Tufts University School of Engineering in Massachusetts later this year.
The mask-making has given Kelli and her mom an unexpected chance to spend time together before she heads off to college.
“We have mini-movie marathons while we do the masks,” Kelli said. “It is easy to do while watching TV. It is fun to do.”
Litwa said she and her daughter work well together.
“We are very productive,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to enjoy each other.”
The Days for Girls LanghornePA team is recruiting more volunteers and accepting fabric and monetary donations to help produce more masks, Spade said. Go to https://donate.daysforgirls.org/team/156263 to find out how to help in the effort.
“We will continue to make and donate these as the virus spreads across the world,” Spade said.
PHOTO CAP: Betty Finnegan and her daughter, Wilma Maracle, sort through fabric to donate to the mask project.