Dan LaBrie, second from right and his family and neighbors have made more than 2,000 masks in trhe past month for medical workers. With LaBrie are, from left, Donna Crawford, Sherry Labrie, Violet Labrie and Caroline Labrie. Submitted photo

Dan Labrie thought his sewing machine had given up when he caught a whiff of something burning while churning out one of the more than 2,000 masks he and his family and neighbors have made in a little more than a month.

“This thing has to have done a few million stitches, a few thousand yards of thread, by now,” said Labrie, who bought the machine right after he took up sewing in March. “This $100 machine probably wasn’t designed to sew a couple of thousand masks in a few weeks.”

Labrie’s machine hasn’t given up yet, and neither has Labrie. The baseball umpire from Auburn and his wife, Caroline, who is pregnant with their second child, have worked through a power outage and a health scare with their daughter, Violet, to make and deliver the masks, which Labrie distributes for free to Central Maine Health Care, St. Mary’s Health System, doctor’s offices, nursing homes and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Labrie has delivered more than 1,300 of those masks to Central Maine Healthcare’s office on Spring Street.

Dr. Monika Bissell, a liaison officer for Central Maine Healthcare’s COVID Incident Command, said Labrie keeps delivering on a promise he made to keep CMHC workers and patients stocked.

“We go through masks like mad, but we’re in really good shape, and it’s people like Dan who make sure we’re in really good shape,” Bissell said.

The masks aren’t the standard N95 masks that medical personnel use when treating COVID cases. But Bissell calls Labrie “a hero” because the masks he brings to them do fill a vital need for personnel and others who are mandated to wear masks in non-patient areas.

“These masks are allowing a lot of the behind-the-scenes operations to occur,” Bissell said.

Labrie has purchased some of the materials using monetary donations from his church, Grace Community Church in Auburn, but has mostly been using materials donated by the owners of Bags from Mars in Lewiston, Joe and Terry Maher. But the sewers will soon have to find another source.

“Their supply of fabric and elastics is about a week or two from running out,” Labrie said.

Labrie said he is considering setting up a drop-off site for anyone who wants to donate materials (fabric and elastics are the greatest need). He will also continue to purchase materials with money from his church’s deacon’s fund and individual cash donations he has received. But he vowed to continue making the masks until they are no longer needed.

“Anything is better than nothing,” he said. “If it means cutting up T-shirts, we’ll keep them covered.”

Labrie’s efforts have gained national recognition, including an interview with the YES Network, a regional sports network owned bv the New York Yankees. He’s made masks for a friend who is a nurse at a New Jersey nursing home, and UMPS Care, a Maryland-based non-profit started by former Major League umpires.

Labrie’s efforts caught the attention of Ump-Attire.com, a large officiating equipment and gear supplier based in Louisville, Kentucky. Inspired by Labrie, the company started making cloth masks using materials that would normally outfit umpires and referees. It also kicked off a campaign in which for every mask it sells it will donate a mask to a charity — and it has added CMHC to its distribution list.

The facilities and transportation director for MSAD 52, Labrie typically sits down at his sewing machine daily after work and sews from 4 p.m. to midnight. It has taken a lot of teamwork to meet the demand, he said. Dan’s mother Sherry and neighbors Donna Crawford and Sue Rioux have spent hundreds of hours sewing, while members of his church find ways to help, even if they can’t sew, “to keep the flow going,” Labrie said.

“We’ve had a lot more people get involved. Everyone has found their job to perform, whether it’s cutting fabric or crocheting headbands and putting the buttons in,'” said Labrie, who had never sewn in his life before undertaking this project. “Everyone finds their job and performs it.”

Labrie said he’s received social media messages from people and organizations around the country willing to buy the masks, but he isn’t taking money (unless it’s a donation to the church to buy more materials).

“We just want to get these into the hands of the people who need them,” he said. “We certainly aren’t building a stockpile.”

The reward for the work, he said, is receiving messages from health care workers expressing their gratitude.

“You kind of get tired late at night but then you get that shot in the arm that tells you it’s not over, and your help is still needed,” he said.

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