Employee joins volunteers to make face masks

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts life as we know, people all over the world are uniting to help as never before. From food donations for schoolchildren to volunteering to care for people infected with the virus, the generosity of others has been the silver lining in this crisis. Turenne PharMedCo’s Nanci Ballard has stepped up to work with a group of talented crafters to help healthcare workers in Tennessee.

Shortages in the worldwide availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) have been tremendous challenges for healthcare facilities. These medical supplies are vital to workers safely doing their jobs and protecting themselves from infection. Since COVID-19 attacks the respiratory system, face masks are in high demand, but difficult to obtain in large quantities.

“While all medical professionals need protection, long-term healthcare providers usually have only small amounts of PPE on-hand,” said Nanci, the pharmacy service specialist at PharMedCo’s Tennessee branch. “However, these facilities are dealing with the population most at risk in the pandemic. Their need is dire.”

In March, Nanci put her networking skills to use to find a homemade solution for long-term healthcare workers in need of masks. Armed with advice from a friend in infectious disease research and a face mask pattern that was approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she set out to help.

“I started a Facebook sewing group and asked for volunteers within my area. People came out of the woodwork!” she said.

People with big hearts

Initially, there were about 20 sewing volunteers but that number soon doubled. The project got to be such a handful that Nanci joined forces with another group of volunteers so she could continue to work full-time and have help managing the sewing and safe delivery of face masks.

“There is a whole group of recently unemployed volunteers. They lost their jobs due to tornado damage and a couple of them are living with friends or children,” Nanci said. “It’s crazy. I have met so many interesting people who just have big hearts.
Originally, the first group of volunteers had a goal of 3,000 masks. Collectively, the two groups have made more than 5,000 face masks and are still going strong.

“One volunteer, Kim Hussey, owns a shop in East Nashville. She lost her storefront in the recent tornado and is sewing from home while quarantined,” Nanci said. “Another lady is in her 70s and switched gears from volunteering for tornado clean-up to sewing masks.”

The project has also garnered support from a local JoAnn’s Fabric and Crafts store. Nanci brokered a discount for volunteers that bought their fabric from the store. The store even provided customers with face masks cut-outs to use as a template.

In addition to volunteers who donate their sewing talents, the project relies on the delivery services of people like Nanci’s husband, Frank, and a few friends from her Bible Study group. They have been logging some serious miles picking up supplies and delivering finished masks. Her friends also write notes to healthcare workers to include in packages of masks. She gives sole credit to the volunteers’ collective efforts for making the project possible during these difficult times.

“It’s a challenge to purchase supplies, get them to seamstresses, pick up finished masks and deliver them to long term care homes without having any human contact,” she said. “But, we’ve managed.”

How to help

Volunteers are still needed to work as seamstresses, pattern cutters and deliverers. Donations of supplies and financial support are also needed. For more information, call Nanci Ballard at 866-720-7626 Ext. 3203 or visit Volunteer Mask Makers COVID-19 Nashville on Facebook.


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