As efforts to flatten the spread of the coronavirus impacted local churches, one local quilting group found themselves with a repurposed mission — helping outfit local health care personnel with cloth masks.

A group of women from Calvary Lutheran Church group have been crafting quilts for the Lutheran Relief for distribution through its programs since 1971. The group started with just three volunteers in 1971 and has grown. The ladies met each Tuesday at Calvary Lutheran Church and recently celebrated donating 316 quilts that were crafted in 2019.

With social distancing guidelines limiting gatherings, the group had not met in recent weeks. Kathy Randall, one of the members, said that the group’s members were trying to continue their efforts, finishing up the tasks that they usually do, at home. The ladies who would trim quilt materials would do that work, those who sew would take care of the sewing and those who fashioned other details would do their work, each dropping off their completed works at the church.

Last week, Randall said, Pastor Chris Kester Beyer reached out to them.

“He asked, how about we hold off on the quilting for awhile, asking us to make masks,” Randall said.

The group were willing, with plans to make masks for congregants. Then, Kester Beyer reached out a second time. Kester Beyer is also the joint pastor at Holy Apostles Church in Mitchell with his wife, Sheryl. A congregant at the church, Ally Begren, works at Regional West and is heading up efforts to organize volunteer groups making masks.

“Pastor Chris said Regional West could use 1,000 masks. Did we think we could take that on?”

When Randall and fellow quilter Marti Wegelin were asked about their reaction, the women both admit they were a little shocked at the thought of making 1,000 masks.

Randall said her reaction: “Aaagh. Wow.”

“I thought, ‘We have opened Pandora’s Box,” Wegelin said as both the women laughed.

However, the women and other fellow members were willing to take on the challenge.

“This is important,” Randall said. “We are all in this together and this is how we can do our little part to help.”

Randall and Wegelin got to work through the weekend, cutting up cloth for the masks and elastic. On Monday, Randall and Wegelin packaged up kits, putting enough supplies together for 500 masks. Each kit has material and elastic for 15 masks. The sewers are asked to take a kit, make their masks and return them to the church for distribution.

They will also make two masks for each of the members of the congregation, making masks for children and adults. Once they are complete, they plan to make masks for the Lakota Lutheran Center and possibly other efforts.

Other efforts to craft masks for health care workers are also underway locally. One effort is the Million Mask Challenge Nebraska effort, modeled after the nationwide Million Mask Challenge. Rebecca Van Gundy, of Omaha, who has ties to the Scottsbluff-Gering area, has become involved in the effort. The Million Mask Nebraska effort has been underway, with a Facebook group, for about two weeks now. Within one week, the group had 1,300 followers and volunteers throughout the state willing to make masks for staff at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and other health care facilities. The effort aimed at helping hospitals with limited supplies of N95 masks, with the masks aiming at helping make the masks last longer. It expanded to include nursing homes and other facilities where cloth masks could be used, both by staff and patients to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Rhonda Koch has been spearheading efforts in the Scottsbluff-Gering location. Sewers have been dubbed “mighty needles.”

“We have about 10 people locally,” she said. “There were three of us until today (Monday), and we had 7 more who committed this week. I know there are a lot of other people who are making masks, some for Regional West Medical Center and others for friends and family.”

Locally, Koch said masks have been delivered to Quick Care and nursing homes in the area. Volunteers have been dropping the masks for that effort off at Cappuccino & Company.

Throughout the state, Van Gundy said, volunteers have delivered about 7,000 to 8,000 masks and there are requests pending for 5,000 masks. The number of masks continue to grow and the group has implemented a form to process volunteers and mask requests.

Both the Calvary Lutheran Church group and the Million Mask Nebraska group have been following patterns that were approved by health care facilities. PPHD has circulated information on its website, www.pphd.org, of contacts at local hospitals that people should reach out to for more information on approved patterns, including the pattern used by Regional West Medical Center.

The Million Mask Nebraska group has six patterns approved and those patterns are available on its website.

“We’re using a very basic pattern,” Van Gundy said. “Some are putting their spin on it ... Everyone is doing what they can.”

One thing that both groups have struggled with is elastic. Masks that utilize elastic are less time consuming to make, Randall said. A pattern that uses ties is also being distributed, but the group would welcome any donations of elastic from 1/4 to 3/4 inch.

Van Gundy said “Elastic is like gold right now,” and said that members have come up with other solutions, from using cotton from T-shirts to bias tape.

Employees of local facilities have also gotten involved in efforts. Leslie Cook, director of health services for Wel-Life Assisted Living in Scottsbluff, said she has been making cloth masks for personal use, using materials such as betting, but using guidelines from PPHD and the CDC.

She has also improvised plastic shields made of laminating sheets and other materials in the event they become necessary for the staff.

“The face shield idea just came to me one night,” she said. “The next morning, I started shopping for supplies and just ‘Macgyvered’ it.”

For more information on the Million Mask Challenge, visit the group on Facebook. To become involved in the Calvary Lutheran Church effort, or to donate, contact the church, 308-632-8023.

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