Elizabeth Irland displays a few of the fabric masks she has made for the statewide group, Sewing Masks for Maine. She said she is happy to support health care providers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Alma-Lee Pace, owner of Alma-Lea’s Dance Studio in Lisbon, displays a stack of the many masks that are mid-production. Her dance studio has a western theme show and had a large supply of leftover cotton bandanas, which she washed and is repurposing. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

With nothing but free time for some Mainers during the stay-at-home order for the COVID-19 pandemic, some are electing to spend it sewing face masks for hospitals and health care providers.

Central Maine Healthcare and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center said in recent weeks that they had adequate supplies of masks and gloves but donations of FDA-approved masks and gloves would be accepted.

Alma-Lee Pace, owner of Alma-Lea’s Dance Studio in Lisbon for nearly 30 years, said her business was one of many in Maine considered nonessential after Gov. Janet Mills issued the stay-at-home order at the end of March. As a result, she and her teachers found themselves with spare time and looked for a way to help.

During a staff meeting via Zoom, Pace said one teacher, who also works as a nurse at St. Mary’s Labor and Delivery department, talked about the shortage of personal protective equipment in hospitals.

“She said that some nurses have had to wear their masks for an entire shift, or use the same mask multiple times, because there’s such a shortage,” Pace said. “I thought that was unbelievable and I asked her what I could do to help.”

Over the past week, Pace said she, Brigitte Whitten and several other “dance moms” have collaborated to make 600 masks for St. Mary’s.

Whitten said she and Pace found a YouTube video that featured a step-by-step tutorial on how to make your own cloth masks.

Pace delivered the first batch of masks to St. Mary’s on Tuesday, and plans to have more ready over the next couple of weeks.

While Whitten has served as the main seamstress, Pace said her neighbor has ironed “hundreds of pieces of material,” and “another dance mom took a bunch of fabric and cut pockets into them so the nurses can put filters in them.”

“It’s a collaborative effort,” Pace said. “We just want to do what we can to help.”

The cloth masks aren’t as effective at protecting against virus particles as N95 masks, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, but they can help to prolong their use.

Kristen Peters, a marketing specialist at SMRT Architects and Engineers in Portland, said she and several others created the Facebook group Sewing Masks for Maine with special patterns that would cover the N95 maks of health care providers.

“It’s interesting, because there were three or four separate groups that started at the same time, within a couple of days of each other,” Peters said. “After a couple of days of everybody going online, we started organizing together.”

Two weeks later, Sewing Masks for Maine has evolved into a group of more than 1,500 volunteers and has delivered more than 2,000 masks to hospitals and health care providers that need them.

Elizabeth Irland, a library media specialist at Bonny Eagle High School in Buxton, is one of the 1,500 volunteers and is utilizing the sewing skills her mother taught her when she was a child.

She said her home is a drop-off site for completed masks and in her spare time, she has sewn 25 of her own masks.

Irland said when she stumbled across the Sewing Masks for Maine Facebook group, she felt compelled to help.

“It’s meaningful for me to be able to give something to the health care providers who are out on the frontlines every day for who knows how many hours,” Irland said. “(It’s a chance) to transcend ourselves as a separate individual and be out there for humankind.”


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