Local women making masks to combat COVID-19

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WALKER COUNTY – The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a feeling of helplessness for people around the county. Family and friends are working on the frontlines at hospitals, pharmacy, and other essential jobs and they do not have the safety equipment they need. What follows is the story of two women who decided to do something.

Mary Lois Capps of Sumiton has been a seamstress for over 40 years. She’s made country curtains, gifts, and clothing. Capps smiled as she said, “I made my kids’ clothes till they got too grown up to wear homemade clothes.” She also crocheted and did embroidery work for years.

She began seeing appeals for masks on Facebook from pharmacists and others working as essential workers mid-March. Later, when she stopped at a local convenience store, the woman working there also needed a mask.

“I’ve been sewing for ump-teen-hundred years, and I have stacks and stacks of fabric that wasn’t being used,” she said.

Capps decided to use some of the fabric sitting on her shelves to make some masks to protect those doing essential work. “I just like to help when I can, but I had no idea that it would grow like it did,” she said. One reason is that she doesn’t charge for the masks.

She’s currently making about 15 masks a day using scrap fabric. One problem emerged this week when she ran out of elastic that she used as ear straps. The local Walmart and Hobby Lobby stores were out of the elastic, so she ordered a batch from China. “I don’t know if it will ever get here,” she said as she smiled.

Without elastic, Capps had to get creative. Not only does she sew, but she also crochets. She tried using two crocheted cords, and it seems to be working. “I think it will be more comfortable than the elastic,” she said.

“I love sewing, and sewing these masks has given me more energy,” she said. Capps can cut and sew a mask from start to finish in less than 30 minutes.

“It makes me feel good to be able to help somebody,” she said. She doesn’t’ do these masks for the recognition or glory; she just loves to sew. People are learning about her service via word of mouth.

Iva Hendon of Jasper had never tried her hand at making masks before the COVID-19 situation, but her daughter works as an intensive care unit nurse. She also has a niece that works in a hospital, and both told Hendon that there was a shortage of supplies where they worked.

Healthcare workers who were not working directly with COVID-19 patients were getting regular surgical masks, and they don’t block much, according to Hendon. This was upsetting to Hendon because she felt both her pregnant daughter and her niece needed more protection while doing their job.

Hendon began researching on YouTube and found someone making masks using HEPA filters that were normally used for vacuum cleaner bags. “The local Walmart was out of those filters, so I began to think about other kinds of filters,” she said. When she checked filters for home heat pumps, she discovered that the Filtrete Elite Allergen 2200 filters bacteria and viruses. It was this feature that caught Hendon’s attention.

Hendon started harvesting the fabric from inside the Filtrete filter and cutting it to size to slip in the pocket of the cloth filter. It can be removed so the cloth can be washed.

The filters come in different sizes. The largest one costs about $25, and I can get about 35 masks out of it. I used a 16x20 yesterday and got 22 masks out of it. Harvesting the fabric out from between wire and cardboard frame is the most difficult part.

When people started learning that Hendon was making these masks for essential workers free of charge, people started donating to help the cause, according to Hendon.

“I prayed every time I’d get down to where I didn’t have what I needed to finish the run of masks, and it would always turn up when I needed it,” she said.

She used the donated money to buy all the special filters at local Walmart stores. Someone called to say they had ordered the filters online and had them shipped to her. She’s making masks as fast as she can but said it would be nice if others were making the masks too.

When asked if she might try to get a patent on the masks she’s making, she was quick to say, “I’m not trying to capitalize on this at all, I’m just trying to help our heroes in the medical field. They’re the ones that deserve the recognition.”

She felt helpless with her daughter going up there working 12-hour shifts without having the right protective gear. Making the masks helps her deal with that feeling of helplessness.

Hendon puts the masks in plastic bags and gives them to healthcare workers first. If no healthcare workers need a mask, she takes the surplus to Enjoy Health Food, and to the English Plaza Pharmacy for them to distribute to people who need them.

Hendon didn’t have a background in sewing, but she had eight children and learned to be creative when she had to be.

If others would like to see how Hendon makes these masks, visit her Facebook page and watch the video on her timeline.