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Citizens work together to make masks

A Facebook group started just a few weeks ago with only two people has now grown to more than 100 citizens who have joined together to make homemade masks for those serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and others who are at risk of contracting the virus.

“I saw news articles from other cities around the country of others organizing efforts like this,” Farmville resident Ginger Davis said. “Then, I started to see local Facebook posts from individuals seeking masks for their healthcare facilities.”

According to Davis, the Facebook group Farmville Area Masks is a connecting point for healthcare professionals to make requests and for the community of seamstresses to be aware of and meet those needs.

“We live in a compassionate community. I knew people would make masks for them,” Davis said.

When she started the Facebook group, she had no idea that another citizen, Toni Puckett, was already organizing seamstresses within the community.

“When we were on the phone collaborating about how to organize everything, we laughed about how ironic it was that we had found ourselves, two people with little to no sewing skills, helping to organize a local sewing movement.” Puckett said.

According to Davis, Farmville Mayor David Whitus put her and Puckett in touch with each other because the two of them had reached out to various organizations asking if there was a need for masks.

“When I received calls from Toni and Ginger saying they knew people who were willing to sew, I ask them to head the effort,” Whitus said. “Both have done a wonderful job of reaching out through their networks to marshal resources and people. It’s an act of love. And the entire healthcare community is deeply appreciative. But it’s who we are as a community. This community has always risen to meet the needs of people.”

Puckett said the credit goes to the people who have spent their time sewing masks for others.

“God has given us all different skills, gifts, and passions to offer, though, and while some of our offerings in this ministry may seem small, they are all needed,” Puckett said. “Ginger and I both feel that we are such a very small part of this ministry, and neither of us wants or seek any attention. The people working countless hours washing, drying, ironing, cutting and sewing fabric into lifesaving masks are true heroes in our eyes.”

According to Puckett, she got involved after calling her mother Rose Marie Howard to see if she could make masks for Dayton Puckett and his staff at Puckett Funeral Home in Farmville.

“Dayton had ordered N95 masks well over a month ago, but they never arrived. We now believe that it could be months before they get here,” Puckett said. “Some of my friends on Facebook had been sharing some tutorials, so I emailed them to my mother to review, and she was happy to make the masks for Dayton and his staff, and asked me to call The Woodland Nursing Home to see if they needed masks for their staff or patients.”

According to Puckett, currently, the group has made and distributed masks to Centra Southside Community Hospital, nursing homes, local rescue squad workers, etc.

“We hope to eventually have enough to cover the needs of Farmville and our surrounding counties,” Puckett said.

Director of Communications and Public Relations Diane Ludwig with Centra Community Hospitals said while the hospital is humbled by the outpour of support, the handmade masks are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) and cannot be used by medical staff.

“We’ve received many requests from our community inquiring about handmade masks,” Ludwig said. These masks are great symbols of support to our caregivers during this time.”

Ludwig further said that since the capability to protect individuals from pathogens, such as COVID-19, is unknown, caution should be exercised when using homemade masks.

“Homemade cloth masks will be used for patients and visitors in low-risk areas and can be used for covering coughs and preventing someone from touching their face,” Ludwig said.

According to Kerry Mossler, community engagement and relations director with Centra Southside Community Hospital, drop-off locations have been set up across the region. Centra is partnering with Gleaning for the World who will handle laundering and processing the donations.

“There are employees at the main lobby entrance with a collection box, and mask distribution will be based on locations with the greatest need,” Mossler said.

Prince Edward Volunteer Rescue Squad Executive Director Deanna Jones said the homemade mask cannot be used for squad members but the organization still can utilize them.

“While we are not able to wear them as our primary PPE, we still have a need for these masks and will put them to good use,” Jones said. “We are able to utilize these for patient use, family member use, and other times when a mask is helpful but does not require the filtering of an N95.”

The Farmville Area Mask Facebook Group is still seeking members and help, and both Puckett and Davis say anyone can help even if they cannot sew.

Citizens can purchase supplies, and there is a detailed list, as well as contact information for local stores that can be found at www.farmvillefam.blogspot.com.

Citizens can offer to help prepare the fabric for sewing.

According to Puckett, all of the fabric needs to be washed in hot water and dried on high heat before cutting and sewing the masks.

Citizens can offer to pick-up masks and deliver them to the needed locations.

“Many of the people mass-producing the masks are in a high-risk group for contracting the virus, so we want to offer to transport the masks to allow these people to stay safely at home,” Puckett said.

If you can sew, your unique skills are much needed to produce masks for the many people who need them.

“The hospital and just one of our nursing homes are in need of at least 800 masks,” Puckett said. “Then, there are more nursing homes, doctor’s offices, etc. that are also in desperate need,” Puckett said.

According to Davis and Puckett, for anyone who has made masks and would like to drop them off to be delivered to facilities in need, Puckett Funeral Home and Centra Southside Community hospital are currently drop off locations.

“I am not a medical professional or scientist, and I don’t even know how to sew,” Davis said. “But I had to do something to help. This is so small in the big scheme of things, but I pray this effort helps bring unity to our local area and lets our healthcare workers know that they are all valued and appreciated.”