Like many people, Marilyn Elston found herself reluctant to go out to public places after hearing about the spread of COVID-19 in Florida. Even before Gov. Ron DeSantis issued his stay-at-home order, Elston was taking no chances of contracting the virus.
Sitting at home with too much time on her hands, she yearned to do something to help during this time of crisis. As it turned out, Elston’s skill as a quilter proved to be essential to healthcare providers as they sought to safeguard the public.
Early in March, a friend familiar with Elston’s quilting asked if she could make masks for caregivers at an area retirement community. At the time, the now-ubiquitous paper masks were is short supply, and caregivers were forced to keep reusing them.
“I had so much fabric,” Elston said, “and I just got started.”
She soon learned that she was not alone in this effort. Two other members of her quilt circle at Ponte Vedra United Methodist Church also began to make masks for healthcare facilities and retirement communities.
But it wasn’t until she began to donate masks to Baptist Hospital in Jacksonville that she saw the true scale of like-minded people doing the same. She went to the drop-off site, where a woman was accepting the newly made masks from countless members of the sewing and quilting communities.
“There’s got to be hundreds out there doing it,” Elston said.
She attributed this spirit of giving to the quality of people who share her hobby.
“Quilting is a labor of love,” she said. “It’s not something that you get immediate satisfaction from, because it takes a while to make a quilt. You put your heart and soul in it.”
She called those who are drawn to quilting “very good-hearted” and “very giving.”
Elston herself has made about 600 masks. She uses quilter’s cotton, which has a tighter weave than many other fabrics and is thus recommended by the CDC. She also lines her masks with an inner layer to help improve their effectiveness.
She can make about five or six of the colorful masks per hour and likens her work to an assembly line.
In addition to Baptist Hospital, Elston said she has donated her masks to Mayo Clinic and several retirement communities and adult-care facilities.
Though Elston currently lives just over the Duval County line, she said her heart is in Ponte Vedra, where she lived from 1990 to 2007. She’s got family and friends in Ponte Vedra and spends a lot of time in the community.
Helping others has also helped Elston.
“It’s kept me so busy, and it’s kept my mind off of watching the news, hearing about all the sadness,” she said. “I just tried to think positive and try and do something to help.”