Masks for Heroes

Group dedicated to creating medical masks, community unity during time of need

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Dr. Scott Covington wasn’t sure what to expect when he rode his bicycle on a quiet street last Monday afternoon in the Sawgrass Country Club community.

He knew he was supposed meet some local residents to pick up masks to help his co-workers at Ascension St. Vincent’s and Memorial hospitals. What he didn’t expect was an outpouring of love and appreciation that went far beyond a bag full of life-saving masks.

“I can’t tell you what a difference this will make,” the general surgeon said as Teri Trotta handed over 50 newly sewn masks. “The way we see it, you’re giving us care. This will go a long way to keep a lot of people safe.”

Trotta got the idea to make masks after talking to her niece Karen Trebing in New York, a nurse working at one of the nation's early epicenters of the deadly breakout of COVID-19.

Even with more than 3,000 confirmed cases and 220 deaths in that county, the niece said there still was a critical shortage of masks to prevent the spread of the airborne disease.

After finding a template and instructions online to make masks, Trotta started a Facebook page, Ponte Vedra: Making masks for Heroes.

“I figured there had to be a way,” Trotta said. “I knew I could sew. I knew I could make masks. The next morning, we started on this.”

Cheryl Younger Maduzia was the first to join the group.

“This is our therapy,” she said.

In a little more than two weeks, the group has grown to 91 members on Facebook. More importantly, they’ve already delivered 750 masks to local hospitals and clinics.

For free.

“We went from zero to 750 in two weeks,” Maduzia said. “And we’re still going.”

Maduzia dropped off 200 masks at Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville early Monday. Trotta gave Covington another 50 later that day – with a promise they’ll make as many as the hospitals need.

They’ve also made the colorful masks for MD Anderson Cancer Center, Adam’s Acres, UF Health in Gainesville, UF Oncology in Fernandina Beach, Rainbow Pediatrics, Jacksonville Orthopedics, Meals on Wheels and Vicar’s Landing senior living center.

Some in the group cut the masks from rolls of 100% cotton and flannel. Others work on straps, while there currently are 12 who sew all day to complete orders.

Susan Dana is in charge of procuring supplies.

“We’re always reaching out trying to find rolls of material and spools of elastic,” she said. “This has become something that’s really brought this community together. For us, this is about serving our community.”

Trotta said she works as many as 15 hours a day at the sewing machine. The group has on online conference call at 6:30 a.m. to discuss new projects and provide updates. There has been such a demand, orders now are logged onto a spreadsheet.

The masks come in a variety of sizes and uses. Some are made specifically for children. Others have tie straps, while others have elastic that stretches over the ears. And some, especially for health care workers in critical areas, are outfitted with filters.

All are bright and colorful. Covington said that makes a difference to people who work tirelessly.

“Sometimes you feel very annotative to the patient,” he said. “Their faces lighten up when they see the bright, happy colors.”

“Tell us what you want, and we’ll get you more,” Trotta said.

The group has been able to keep their project afloat by local donations of money and materials. They clearly aren’t as comfortable asking for donations as asking for where their help is needed most. But if you want to help, reach out to the group’s Facebook page. Better yet, they’re always looking for new members with sewing machines.

“This is all about creating joy in a time of uncertainty and in the face of social distancing and isolation,” Trotta said. “Our mission is to serve the front-line medical workers.”

One mask at a time.

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