UNIVERSAL CITY — When the need for protective face masks to fight COVID-19 arose, ladies from Grace Community Church wasted no time answering the call.
Since March, 14 church volunteers have sewn 251 facial coverings. Most get donated to first responders battling the pandemic, a novel strain of highly infectious coronavirus originating in China in late 2019.
Recipients include health care, social and mortuary workers; firefighters; and school-cafeteria personnel, said Connie Leonard, the project’s coordinator. Residents have also obtained them on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“Everybody that receives the masks are very appreciative, because they are made with love,” said Leonard, an Army medic for 30 years. “And, they are made by our church ladies. They are great quality masks. A lot of them are made with pockets in them, so they can insert filters in them as well, which gives them a little more protection.”
Enlisting volunteers was a seamless process, Leonard said. Some have been sewing since childhood.
Cibolo resident Donna VanGilder, 64, took to needle and thread at age 6 under the supervision of her mother and grandmother, who allowed her to use the family’s sewing machines. She quit after high school; however, the birth of her granddaughter, Megan, in 2004, sparked her to quilt – another variation of the craft, which affixes two or more layers of fabric together utilizing a thread or needle to make a thicker, padded garment.
VanGilder responded to a Facebook post from the church group seeking sewers.
So far, she has crafted 135 masks, averaging eight to 10 a day, using different combinations of cotton and nonwoven interfacing fabric, elastic and ties.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is something I could do,’” she said. “Then I thought, ‘What a great way to serve my community, because if people are faced with the storm every day, and they have no way to protect themselves, how awful that would be to go to work.’”
Converse resident Ronda Orr has created 300 masks – made from fabric, elastic and textile cord. The wares have been donated to the church, Brooke Army Medical Center health care workers, and employees of an acquaintance. A self-described “fabric hoarder,” Orr has sewn a variety of garments for herself and family members for more than 40 years, including Halloween costumes, quilts, curtains and pillowcases.
“I have always been of the philosophy that if there is a need in front of you, and you have the means to address that need … that is the right thing to do,” said Orr, who for more than a month has sewn masks four to 10 hours daily.
Terri Donahoe, a Marion resident and churchgoer at Grace for three decades, said she crafted 35 coverings using cotton batik and donated fabric and elastic. She learned to stitch in home-economics classes; the instruction came in handy when she had to sew military stripes and name tags onto her uniform. Donahoe, who works at the church as an office manager, is an Air Force veteran.
“I am not a great sewer, but it is good to be able to take the skills that I learned a long time ago and put them into use for the greater good,” she said.
Mask requests have lessened significantly in recent weeks, Leonard said, but sewing-material donations are still welcome.
She personally delivers the end results to some of the requestors, saying it “does her heart good” to connect with recipients and volunteers.
“It’s been a blessing,” Leonard said. “I never thought I would see the day that the health care workers would not have the resources that they need to do their jobs. This is my little part of being able to support them.”
Single mom Amanda Stewart, who’s received some of these masks, said she’s grateful for the volunteers’ efforts. She distributed several to a friend, who is a foster parent of four children.
“Masks are definitely not easy to come by right now,” said Stewart. “And, because (the church) didn’t charge us for them, that was really awesome. It’s hard work making them. It was a great thing to have and be given.”
Donors of sewing supplies can call 210-659-8200. The church is at 701 Kitty Hawk Road.