Crenshaw County volunteers making masks to fill need

Published 8:55 am Wednesday, April 22, 2020

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Local citizens with a flair for sewing and a desire to protect others have joined together to help bridge the gap created by the COVID-19 pandemic. With a shortage of medical masks available nationwide, several Crenshaw County residents are stepping up to help outfit medical personnel, essential employees and those with compromised immune systems with much-needed masks.

Tanja Bowen, who works at Highland Home School, is one of those helping make masks.

“My co-worker, Tina McGough, got word from a friend that there was a tremendous need for masks at the hospitals and doctors’ offices in Montgomery,” Bowen said. “Once Tina started sewing, it quickly snowballed. She asked if I could help and I said, ‘Of course!’ The need was so great.”

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Bowen says she and McGough have been sewing “non-stop” for the past several weeks.

“I am not even sure how many we have made, but it’s well into the hundreds,” Bowen said. “It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that you are helping someone that could also be helping saving the life of a family member or friend.”

McGough, who lives in Honoraville and teaches fifth grade at Highland Home School, says the early school closures due to COVID-19 provided a prime opportunity to help out the community at large.

“We have donated the masks to many people in our area, some of whom work in the medical field, along with Jackson Hospital, Baptist East and Baptist South hospitals and to local businesses,” McGough said.

The volunteers say they watched YouTube videos to learn how to make the masks, which take approximately 15 minutes to complete.

“Since I already knew how to sew, I thought I could use those skills to help protect those people who have no choice, but to risk exposure,” McGough admitted. “I didn’t realize how big of a need it was when I started.”

What started out as making masks for friends quickly grew into making them for friends of friends, acquaintances and even strangers, McGough said.

“I recruited others to help me meet the many needs,” she said. “Lisa Cox, Joan McGough and Tanja Bowen have been such great help. We’ve now started making surgical caps, as well.”

Erica Connor of Luverne admits she did not come into mask making as a skilled seamstress. Nevertheless, it has not stopped her from honing her skills to help meet a critical need.

Connor, who is the vice president of operations for the Glenwood-based outdoor television network, the Pursuit Channel, got started with mask fabrication through her sister, Maegen Marshall, who lives in Florida.

“We saw a need and had the means to meet it,” Connor said. “We had a sewing party here one night during a visit and it has just grown from there. She is still sewing, too, but she’s back in Florida now.”

She is not quite sure how many she has made.

“I have honestly stopped counting,” Connor explained. “I know it’s at least 300, but I am still sewing. People are asking for them every day, so I just keep adding them my list. I’ve done all these in roughly a two-week period and that doesn’t count the ones my sister has sewn.”

Since she is considered essential, she is also still working.

“I am in the office every other week,” Connor said. “On my weeks at home, I am able to sew every day between work and mommy duties.”

Like Johnny Cash in his famous song, Connor’s masks have “been everywhere, man.”

“They have gone to so many people,” she said. “I have sent some to NYC to a nurse volunteering on the front lines and to doctors and nurses in Texas, Birmingham, Tennessee, Indiana and Montgomery.”

Locally, Brantley Rescue, the Luverne Nursing Home, Luverne Post Office and individuals at risk have all received Connor’s masks.

“I’ve even made kid-size masks and special headbands with buttons to help medical personnel from experiencing ear strain,” Connor said. “I am not a seamstress at all, so I used both a pattern and a YouTube tutorial. My masks are double lined and pleated, and it takes me about 10 minutes per mask. I really should apologize to all those who received my first batch of masks; let’s just say I have really improved my skills since I started.”

While Jessica Bowman lives in Greenville, the registered nurse works at Crenshaw Community Hospital, where she and fellow employees are involved in making masks for the protection of their staff.

“I really have fun doing this,” she concluded. “It’s become a group effort with my fellow employees. As a nurse, witnessing other nurses being exposed from lack of PPE served as my primary motivation to start making masks. When people with certain health conditions have on a mask, I am hoping that it will help minimize transmission to these people. It’s great to feel as if you are making a positive difference during this pandemic.”

Those who have a need for masks or who wish to donate fabric, elastic, bias tape and/or other supplies, are welcome to contact Crenshaw County’s various mask maskers via Facebook.