WARRICK CO., Ind. (WFIE) - Volunteers with a local nonprofit aimed at making masks for those who need them most has made it their mission to ensure students with the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation and Warrick County School Corporation have face coverings for the new academic year.
It started in April as a passion project to make masks for family and friends. Shortly afterwards, Sew and Serve quickly turned to making masks for essential workers, first-responders and those in need.
“It really meant to much to us,” said Kyle Gorman, director of development at the Evansville Rescue Mission, who received around 50 masks from Sew and Serve. “Especially in the time of needing those masks was really helpful, because we want to make sure everyone who comes in is wearing a mask and staying safe in everything that they’re doing.”
The Evansville/Newburgh branch of Sew and Serve has around 300 volunteers - some sewing, some washing, some cutting and many donating.
“Some people just wanted to wash fabric or cut fabric or just donate fabric or elastic,” Christin Pelsor, coordinator of the Evansville/Newburgh SWIN Sew and Serve satellite said. “We coordinate those people with people who were really good sewists, so the sewists can just sew, and everyone else can help.”
The Indianapolis-based nonprofit started in March, and Pelsor started a Southwest Indiana chapter in April.
The chapter has made around 6,000 masks, and even some surgical caps, in the past four months.
Mary Miller of Newburgh says she’s made about 1,000 masks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic - most of them, out of her own pocket.
“We were doing hospital requests and a lot of nursing homes,” Miller said.
The group has been able to help serve partners like the Evansville Rescue Mission, Chemo Buddies, ECHO Community Healthcare, ARC of Evansville, Ozanom Family Shelter and many others, in addition to countless volunteer fire departments, nursing homes, long-term care facilities and other first-responders.
Sew and Serve operates primarily through contactless pick-up and drop-off sites across the Greater Evansville region. Many are simply on the porches of volunteers.
The group’s newest commitment is 6,000 more CDC-compliant masks for EVSC and Warrick County students before the start of the school year. What is even more challenging? These are not just any masks.
“We are focusing on the really little faces,” Pelsor said. “So it is like Kindergarten through third grade or Kindergarten through fifth grade. That’s like youth small, medium and large, is what we are focusing on right now. We asked, ‘okay well what grade levels need these sizes, and what percentage of them are on free and reduced lunch?' So we took that percentage, and that’s how we came up with our 6,000 number.”
“We are about a fifth of the way there,” Pelsor said. “We are trucking along, but we need help. We absolutely can always use more help.”
Pelsor adds that volunteers are looking for more the merrier when it comes to face mask donations.
“When people are buying masks for their kids, wherever they buy from and whomever is making them or sewing them, they can buy one and donate one to us for the schools,” Pelsor said.
Since most of the work is done remotely, many of the group members have never met.
“At any given time,” Pelsor said. “I’m not really sure how many sewists I have!”
Pelsor and Miller agree, this project can encompass all ages and all skill levels. Pelsor says one of her best sewists did not know how to sew until the start of the pandemic.
“There is something you can do,” Pelsor said. “It’s a little thing, but it’s something. I am a person of faith, and I just like felt like God was like, ‘Here! Here is something you can do. Just do this for me.' So any feeling of failure is just like, just do it! This is what you’re suppose to be doing. Just do this, and you can’t fail.”
“Even when I make them for my friends, and they send pictures of their kids,” Miller said. “Hopefully it can help.”
For anyone interested in joining the group, Pelsor says the organization is recognized as a Signature School. This means organizers can sign off for community service hours.
Pelsor says the best way to get started is to reach out to the group’s Facebook page or to Pelsor directly.
“I will do whatever is takes to get you connected,” Pelsor said.