by Sally Blanchard
Floral prints, polka dots, cat prints, flannel, and fabric with sequins were all put to use by the sewists at Portland First United Methodist Church. Beginning in late March and continuing through October, Sonja Connor and other church members sewed 10,000 cloth masks for the frontline workers of Portland and other areas.
“It felt good to do something to make a positive difference,” Connor said.
The project started with a conversation Portland First UMC member Darin Honn had with a colleague whose wife is a resident physician at Oregon Health Sciences University hospital. Honn heard about the severe shortage of personal protective equipment the hospital staff was experiencing, especially the shortage of masks. He learned that cloth masks were being used over the top of N95 masks in clinics so that they could be changed between patients. He and his wife Linda were moved to help. They got a pattern and Darin went out to buy fabric and elastic while Linda got to work sewing.
Honn contacted Rev. Donna Pritchard who put him in contact with church members who liked to sew. About 20 people joined the effort using their favorite patterns and their fabric stashes and started sewing from their homes. Church members donated more fabric and funds and several volunteered to pick up the masks and deliver them where they were needed.
A white plastic kitchen bag held 85 cloth masks. Bag after bag was filled and delivered.
Soon they had given masks to the Veterans Administration hospital, Portland Clinic, first responders, homeless service providers, medical clinics, hospice organizations, and Central City Concern. A connection to the Navajo Nation resulted in a large box being sent there.
When Linda Phillips-Honn’s son Tyler came home from college for spring break, he pitched in too.
Connor joined the project and committed to sewing 12 masks a day. She kept making them faithfully day after day. Within six months, Connor made more than 2,000 masks. She stressed that it was a church-wide project. It seemed the need was so great, the sewists and helpers continued into the fall.
“People liked helping do something at a time when you didn’t know what to do to be helpful,” she said.