Face masks donated to The Fabric Art Shop in Lake City. The shop is trying to help Lake City Medical Center and Shands Lake Shore Regional Medical Center. (Image courtesy of The Fabric Art Shop)

Residents Band Together To Make COVID-19 Gear

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Just a few days ago, Oliver James and Pegeen Hanrahan did not know each other. Now, they are working together to help Gainesville residents protect themselves and others against COVID-19. 

On Friday, Hanrahan began a Facebook page called Gainesville Face Mask Crafters for COVID-19 Support. On this page, people can sign up to make cotton face masks from a sewing pattern provided by Deaconess Hospital in Indiana, and they can donate sewing machines, fabric, thread or elastic to make the masks. 

“I could see that people were doing different things, but they weren’t connected together,” Hanrahan said. “I thought, why don’t I try to connect people?” 

The Facebook page has quickly grown.  As of Wednesday, it has almost 350 followers and has received requests for face masks from GRACE Marketplace, doctor’s offices and food distributors, Hanrahan said. 

Of the masks being produced from this group, some have a place to fit over a standard surgical mask or an opening on the top or sides to slide in a filter ⁠— all of this to extend the utility of the masks once they have been distributed. 

“To some degree, we’re just preparing for a worst-case scenario,” Hanrahan said. 

The group is partnering with the Alachua County chapter of the nonprofit Days for Girls. Days for Girls has the materials for up to 2,000 masks. Any mask produced by a member of the group is sent to Days for Girls to distribute. 

Hanrahan is working closely with James, who began the Gainesville Makers Against Covid Facebook group on March 19. James is working to create face shields and a prototype N95 mask with a group of people who own and can operate 3D printers. They have partnered with the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention to use the 3D printers there, Hanrahan said. 

Funding for these efforts is coming from donations to the Community Foundation of North Central Florida. So far, they have raised $11,000, largely from a $10,000 challenge grant from two donators, Gladys Cofrin and Dan Logan, friends of Hanrahan’s.

“Gladys and Dan have a long history of philanthropy for many causes,” Hanrahan said.

James and his group are also partnering with the 3D printing lab at the University of Florida’s Marston Science Library, UF’s Fab Lab and members of Gainesville Hackerspace.

“It started really small with just five of us, and I couldn’t have anticipated how big it’s gotten and how many labs are willing to participate,” James said. 

Gainesville Makers Against Covid is working with UF Health Shands Hospital, Malcom Randall Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and North Florida Regional Medical Center to make items that will be up to standard should the need for them arise, James said.

“We’ve reached out to them and are hoping they won’t need to use our equipment,” James said, “However, they have been very amenable and appreciative of our support.”

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page acknowledges homemade face masks as an option but only as a last resort. It states that homemade masks are not considered to be personal protective equipment. 

“It’s way better than nothing,” Hanrahan said. 

Oliver’s and Hanrahan’s masks are not the only grassroots efforts trying to help with COVID-19. The Fabric Art Shop in Lake City is taking donations to supply two hospitals, Lake City Medical Center and Shands Lake Shore Regional Medical Center, with cloth masks. 

Brett Swanson, the manager of the store, saw reports that medical facilities are encouraging people who can sew to make masks.

“Once we learned they wanted it and there was a need, we jumped on it,” Swanson said. 

As of Sunday, 50 people were signed up to work from home on the masks. Finished masks can be brought to the store or donated directly to a specific facility. 

The store has also had a nursing home request masks because it is almost out of disposable ones, Swanson said. 

“I think it’s more of a temporary thing to make sure they save the surgical masks for the critical occasions,” Swanson said. 

The Fabric Art Shop is also accepting donations to provide materials for those making the masks.

On a national level, JOANN Fabric and Craft stores has a sewing pattern and tutorials for cloth masks on its website and is providing guidance in stores for those who would like to make them. 

About Shelby Smith

Shelby is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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