Nurses in Masks“The minute I said, ‘I have a need and I thought of you,’ she mobilized all her resources,” said Deb Afasano, VP of Clinical Services at KR Management.

With a shortage of masks, senior living communities are pulling resources and searching for ways to obtain personal protective equipment amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Since Deb leads the nursing teams for KR Management, a senior housing management company in Florida, she was proactively planning how to ensure all staff were equipped with masks.

Within hours of new CDC guidelines and mask protocol, Deb contacted Elizabeth Vander Ploeg, a friend she’d met through Answered Prayers Project, an art studio organization that taught sewing classes to local women.

The timing was perfect as Elizabeth had just received a call on March 20th from Snell Isle Resident, Terri Reid. Terri had connected with her friend Janice Chandler to set out on the task of sewing “a few” masks for local healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic, and they were looking to add to their small but mighty team.

A “few” masks quickly turned into a hundred masks, and then a thousand, and as of April 7th, they had given out 1,800 masks to local hospitals, healthcare centers and senior living communities. By Friday, April 10th, Janice predicts they will have made 3,000 masks!

Within days of beginning to make masks, they had recruited over 200 sewers located between Pinellas County and Fort Myers. Most of these “cutting warriors” and “sewing angels” were strangers now connected by one common thread; to help healthcare heroes in their communities.

These masks are used in non-surgical settings, are made of brightly colored fabric and most importantly, are washable. With the large number of volunteers, Janice decided an assembly line process would be best, so some could wash, iron and cut fabric while others used their sewing skills. She even creates kits for each sewer which include precut material, a pattern and instructions. Once the sewer completes a kit, she delivers it back to Janice to be picked up by the healthcare teams in need.

“We eat, sleep and breath these masks, because we want to be prepared to give our volunteers a job to do since they’re so desperate to help during this time of great need,” said Janice.

Among the volunteers are women from the women’s sewing group of McGregor Baptist Church in Fort Myers, Students in “Club Med,” a St. Pete High School club designed for those interested in the medical profession, as well as many others who connected via social media.

As Deb reflects on this life-changing movement, and finds words to encourage the nurses at KR communities across the state, she shares these thoughts…

“We do not see the faces behind the hands that snip and cut fabric, and we do not hear the whrrrrr of sewing machines that zig and zag and create colorful masks, but we know that hearts are beating in sync.  We feel the love, we see God in every handmade mask that will bring us confidence as we face an invisible threat. Every mask that adorns our faces is a constant reminder that love is a powerful force and together we can use this time to remember the important gifts in life.”

To learn more about how you can help, find this group on Facebook:  Sewing for St. Pete – Masks for COVID-19