Sewing Masks

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a worldwide struggle to provide enough masks for health care workers and facilities. The people of Starkville, Mississippi have come together to create a Facebook community to help those in need. The group, "Starkville SEW Strong," was created by multiple people who wanted to do more than just sit at home.

Emily Marett, a faculty member at Mississippi State University, is the founding member of Starkville SEW Strong. Marett was inspired by a similar group of civilians in Indiana who were making masks for their health care workers. Marett explained she was originally hesitant about the idea of the homemade masks. 

"At first, my reaction was horror," Marett said. "I am a faculty member within the College of Business, and I regularly teach courses on human resource management that cover OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] and basic safety practices. I am also a former first aid, CPR and lifeguarding instructor. I know from that background that homemade masks are insufficient PPE [personal protective equipment] for nurses and doctors facing a highly contagious disease."

However, doubts turned to resolve upon further understanding the impact these masks were making.

"But my horror quickly transitioned into motivation. As a lifelong crafter and quilt maker, sewing is something I knew I could do. Like everyone else, I had spent that week of extended MSU spring break vacillating between various states of shock and fear over the constant flow of news about COVID-19's impact. It filled me with hope to think that instead of being stuck at home, helpless, there was something I could actually do to help," Marett said.

Mary Esther Elam, a school nurse at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary, was in contact with Marett before the Facebook group was started. She gave insight into how many masks have been created and donated so far.

"The page was initially made to make masks for OCH [Oktibbeha County Hospital], and it probably took about two weeks because they put in a request for 500," Elam said. "The total number that we were able to donate had to be over 1,000. I know that we were right at 1,000, and people can still even donate now. But we have kind of put them on hold for now so that we can help other health care facilities in Starkville."

Elam explained the group has continued to make an impact, donating many more than the original 500 mask request.

"We have helped just about all of the other health care facilities in Starkville that have replied to us saying that they have needed the masks. I know that in addition to the 1,000 that we have made for OCH, we have now made 1,000 for other health care facilities as well," Elam said. 

The members of Starkville SEW Strong have been keeping track of the number of additional masks they have created and donated. They have donated 50 to the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Health Center, 60 to MSU essential staff and many more.

Melanie Harris, a theatre instructor at MSU, runs the costume shop for her department. She asked her department head if she would be able to take her sewing machine home, not only to make things she needed for her class but to also make masks. Harris has a sister who works at the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a nurse practitioner and heard there might be some mask shortages. Harris knew she could sew and wanted to help the community.

"I can't go to a hospital and help a patient," Harris said. "I don't have any skills in that or the authority, but I can sew and I can help other people sew. That's been the thing about it, is to not feel like you are just sitting at the mercy of this thing, you are actually doing something to contribute in whatever little way you can. I am not an essential worker. I make pretty clothes for imaginary people until I make masks for medical workers." 

There is a place for everyone in this group, even those who are not seamstresses. Those who cannot sew are delivering the masks and helping others find the materials they need to make new masks. Harris spoke to the impact those who cannot sew are able to have as well.

"Now one woman who has been amazing is Lonnice Fields. She doesn't sew, but she has run mask supplies around town almost full time for two weeks, which is pretty awesome," Harris said.

Those involved in this community have joined together to make a massive impact in Starkville. However, they are far from finished. The group Starkville SEW Strong wants people in the Starkville community to know they can reach out for help. Not only are these masks being made for health care facilities, but they are also being made for the businesses which have been deemed essential. 

The masks have also been donated to other members of the community who need them. Starkville SEW Strong is an example of how vital and impactful community support is during a time like this. Everyone can make a difference, and the hardworking members of this group have proven this to be true.

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