When coronavirus cases increased rapidly in the U.S., many hospitals were left without enough masks for their staff, which put them at higher risk for contracting the virus. In addition, the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to wear face coverings in public settings led to unprecedented demand for homemade cloth face coverings. Many people stepped in to help address the shortage, including dedicated staff members at Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Taking on the role of seamstress
As patient volumes decreased at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Salt Lake City in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Margaret Pedicini, LCSW, ACM-SW, a board-certified pediatric medical social worker at the hospital, used her time to fill a huge need at the hospital by sewing homemade cloth face coverings.
“Social work is a naturally and intentionally helpful profession,” said Pedicini. “I like to keep busy, and since I have a lot of friends in residencies spread out across the country in various hospitals on the front lines, I decided to start making masks.” Pedicini said she is trying to spread as much light and joy as possible at a time when you never know who just might need a pick-me-up. Pedicini’s diligent efforts produced more than 500 homemade masks, with 100 donated to the Salt Lake City Shriners Hospital. The rest were shipped to friends, family and personal contacts in 15 different states. Her efforts have grown from a nice idea to a huge undertaking, complete with a logo and a name – Margaret’s Mask Project. At Shriners Hospitals for Children — Springfield, Physician Assistant Sarah Durgin was saddened that her patients could not see her smiling at them through her mask. She worked with the staff medical photographer, who created friendly photo badges for each member of the medical staff. They wear them so patients and their families can instantly feel more comfortable and familiarize themselves with care providers (and their smiles). Durgin also made child-sized masks in fun patterns for patients. “I think kids are more likely to wear a mask if it’s fun, which will help keep everyone safe,” she said.
A community effort
In Chicago, amateur sewers of all kinds came together around the city to make masks for health care providers. They connected using the Facebook group Chicago Mask Makers. Lydia Barhight, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago, joined the effort when a fellow staff member told her about it. Dr. Barhight said her husband is an ICU physician, which made her feel particularly stressed about the availability of personal protective equipment for health care workers. “I hadn’t sewed since seventh grade, but it came back to me quickly. I ended up sewing about 300 masks. As a group we donated more than 17,000.”
Volunteers make masks, and a difference
There were even more efforts to provide masks for Shriners Hospitals for Children — Salt Lake City. More than 30 people collectively donated at least 2,500 hand-sewn masks. The generous donors included Aline Smith and her sister, Denice Vernieuw, members of the local chapter of Daughters of the Nile, a ladies’ organization that supports our health care system. “It was our pleasure to serve,” said Smith.
Janet Welsh, one of the Salt Lake City hospital’s volunteer pet therapy dog handlers, also donated masks. “I was inspired to make masks because I am a seamstress and had the time to do so. So few people know how to sew nowadays, so I started making masks at the very beginning of the shutdown,” said Welsh. “I started sewing with the intention of making them for my family and friends, but then I got connected to an organization that was coordinating seamstresses to make masks and donate them to local hospitals. Then when Shriners Hospitals put out the call, I dropped off the two or three dozen that I had made.”
Help from across Canada
Nearly 100 ladies representing women’s organizations across Canada that support the work of Shriners Hospitals for Children — Canada have provided more than 500 reusable masks and 450 reusable gowns to the hospital. The women are members of the sewing units of Ladies’ Oriental Shrine of North America, Daughters of the Nile, Wawa Ladies Auxiliary, Ladies of the Saber, and Karnak Ladies Auxiliary. They even made it a priority to choose fabric with fun and colorful patterns to brighten up the days of staff members and patients. There are countless examples of stories like these across our health care system. We thank the many generous volunteers who have done so much.