Don Martin / Photo
Regina Martin is one of many quilters who have donated their time and materials to make protective face masks as a spike in demand due to the COVID-19 outbreak has caused a shortage.
Mid-morning Tuesday, Bent Tree resident Regina Martin spoke with someone regarding a request for 1,500 face masks for an organization outside of Pickens, “but at this point that is a big order for us and we have such a great need right here in our own community,” she said.
Martin, a member of the First Mountain City Quilters, is part of a network of quilters and seamstresses in Pickens County who are donating their time and materials to make face masks, which have been in short supply since the
COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. For their first collection day on April 2, the volunteers donated a total of 342 masks, 100 of which went to local assisted living facilities, 30 to the hospice care center, 190 to Piedmont Mountainside Hospital, and 20 that were kept for emergency requests.
Martin said the group effort began when her husband Don Martin, Rotary District Governor over 72 clubs in the north Georgia area and also a member of the Jasper club, was approached by someone to see if Rotary could assist with face masks. Don then went to his wife, who has been quilting since she was a teenager.
“I knew if there was a need, quilters would be all over this,” she said.
It was ultimately decided they would focus efforts to the Pickens community to make the most local impact. From Rotary and the First Mountain City Quilters, a call was then put out through the Martin’s church, Fellowship Presbyterian, and women like Connie Kirk and Catherine Pichon stepped up to help. The movement grew to include the Pine Needle Quilters out of Big Canoe, and other individuals like Frances Scott of Ball Ground, Jane Tennedenny of Bent Tree, Eva Roberts Sauer, and others like Monique Vinelli who told Martin, “she couldn’t sew a lick but could help us figure out who has needs.”
Photo: Nelson resident Rhonda Stancil, right, is usually busy with prom dresses this time of year, but like many seamstresses has turned her efforts to making face masks. She is pictured with daughter Valerie Boehm. Unlike the medical masks, homemade masks like these can be colorful with a variety of patterns.
The volunteers have also received donations for the effort, including fabric from the Southern Appalachian Folk School.
Martin even got response from an online quilt guild she is a part of, and now Lillian Rost out of South Dakota is donating masks to the Pickens community. Martin also mentioned Out on A Limb Quilt Guild that has some Pickens participants, but is creating masks primarily for Northside Hospital in Cherokee because most members are from Canton, she said.
“They are doing amazing work and deserve recognition,” she said. “And I thought it was incredible the woman from South Dakota doesn’t even live here and she wants to help.”
For the second batch of masks that will be picked up from local volunteers on April 16, the group hopes to make 100 more masks for the local hospital - but this time they are more difficult curved masks they hope the hospital will allow their employees to wear over and in addition to the N95 masks.
“The first batch we did were the more basic flat masks,” Martin said. “These take longer. We are hoping the hospital could use them for staff, but if not they can use them for people in respiratory distress.”
As it is becoming more common to wear protective masks in public, the group is now getting requests from individuals. Other seamstresses in the community that are not involved in this larger group effort are also shifting from commission or hobby work to making face masks - and instead of the sterile solid white medical workers wear all the homemade versions tend to have bright colors and patterns.
Tariz Food Mart employee Ashley Thomas, for example, wears a mask to work that her sister Rachelle Young sewed. It has a pink background with butterflies.
“She’s made 51 so far,” Thomas said. “She had been doing custom t-shirts before the virus started, but started making these for family and friends and it grew from there.”
Tariz Food Mart employee Ashley Thomas protects herself at work with a mask made by her sister, who has made dozens of masks for family, friends, and others who request them.
Thomas’ manager was wearing one the day of the interview as well, and said all the employees there operate under the motto “Mask is a Must.”
“Oh yes, we all wear them,” she said. “We wear them and gloves and overclean everything. But yes, masks are a 100 percent necessity for us and a lot of people.”