Four women ‘answer the call’ to make masks for healthcare workers


WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) – They gather every day at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Wheeling Island with sewing machines, fabric and supplies.

One is a retired Home Economics teacher. One, a retired nurse. One has a professional sewing machine. One has her mother’s World War II model. But they’re all on a mission.

It started when Debbie Cooey’s former Home Economics student got in touch with her.

“I got a call from Fawn Thomas, who was one of my first students at Madison School–my first home ec job,” said Debbie Cooey. “She said we have a call to arms. There are nurses out there who have no masks to wear.”

“Many of our health care providers are being asked to use these repeatedly,” said retired nurse Judy Fahey, pointing to a used N-95 mask.

And that was frightening.

So, these sewers came up with a pattern, tried it on, tweaked the pattern, and now they’re making masks daily in St. Luke’s Sunday School room, while maintaining a six-foot distance from each other.

One woman hesitated at first, but then she saw an email from West Virginia Episcopal Bishop Mike Klusmeyer.

“And he said they’re desperate for seamstresses,” Cooey related. “He said if you can do anything to sew or make these masks, you need to help. And she said, ‘That was my answer to prayer. I’ll be there in the morning.’ “

The masks are not a replacement for N-95s.

“When a provider has one of these masks on, this just provides them with a handmade shield that they can place over their masks to protect their masks from becoming soiled,” Fahey explained.

They’ve been asked to make 400 for one nursing home, and 12 for one department of a hospital. Their sewing skills are not all equal.

“Debbie was able, as an instructor, to let us know what to do,” noted Fawn Thomas. “We adjusted on the fly, and she didn’t make anyone feel that they weren’t as important as the person who could do more than them.”

Due to the new state shutdown order, this is their last day sewing together at St. Luke’s. So, they’ll go their separate ways, each to her own home, but they’ll keep in contact, and they’ll keep on sewing.

In fact, they need more fabric and more sewers.

“If you’re a retired home ec teacher or a retired seamstress and you’d like to do something to help, there’s a great need out there.” Cooey said.

And now they’ve also been approached to make surgical gowns and caps.

If you have fabric to donate or if you are a skilled sewer, please contact them at 740-296-8069.

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