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2 Apr 2020

Stitching safety, one mask at a time

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April 2, 2020 Category: Local Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Pennsylvania parole agent Donielle Martin in her spare time, volunteering making masks for hospital workers. 

By Thera Martin

In times of crisis, people tend to perform acts of kindness. 

Such is the case of Pennsylvania State Parole Agent Donielle Martin. 

As a state parole agent, Martin, one of the frontline employees still out there working in spite of the scourge of the coronavirus, got the idea of using her talents as a seamstress to provide a service that her fellow frontline workers, healthcare workers, really need. 

She began making the face masks they need to allow them to take care of patients while keeping the virus at bay.

 “I own several sewing machines because I teach sewing classes to children several times a year”, Martin said.”  “I also have a lot of scrap material that’s clean, has never been used, and is just sitting in plastic bins in my sewing room. While at work earlier that day, all my colleagues and I had been given protective face masks to wear as we’re out doing home visits with parolees. When I got home that night, I took my face mask apart that had been given to me to see exactly how it had been constructed. It was easy, I said to myself, and the seed of action was planted.”

Martin said she then went online to pull up an actual pattern for how to make a facemask, and her volunteer nighttime effort began. She recruited her 15-year-old son Noah, a friend Jasmyne Boggs, and her 16-year-old goddaughter Jabriya Shepherd to help out.

Boggs and the teens had previously taken Martin’s sewing classes at the Allegheny West Foundation, so they already knew the basics of what they needed to do. Martin showed them the rest of the steps for how to create the facemasks.

“Watching news coverage about COVID-19 daily and seeing the doctors and nurses and other medical staff at hospitals across our country nearly in tears, begging for something as simple as face masks, just broke my heart. I knew I had to do something with the talent God gave me for sewing and use it to help some medical workers at a Philadelphia hospital.” Martin said. 

15-year-old Noah Martin assisting his Mom in making face masks for hospital workers at Einstein Medical Center.

“In the back of my head for a minute or two I had a little bit of doubt, thinking, how useful can the masks I’m creating be, when they’re not the official N95 masks,” Martin had questioned herself. “But that doubt was denied because I know that some kind of mask is better than no mask at all. To expect health care workers to just tie a bandana over their face is insane.”

Martin, Noah and Jabrya set a goal of making 200 masks. The plan was to drop the masks off at a hospital where she thought they could do the most good, so she chose the Einstein Medical Center, located at Broad and Olney. Things were going fine for the first few days, then suddenly Martin realized she had run out of the very critical elastic bands needed to complete the making of the face masks. But she didn’t allow that to deter her. 

There’s a business on Germantown Avenue called Gaffney’s Fabrics. Gaffney’s has loads of everything one needs to make clothing, and all sorts of other items, including elastic bands. Because Martin is a regular customer, not only did she have the main phone number to the store, she had the owner’s cell phone number as well — and she used it.

15-year-old Noah Martin assisting his Mom in making face masks for hospital workers at Einstein Medical Center.

Kate Gaffney responded to Martin’s call for help and within the hour, she was able to drive over to Gaffney’s and get curbside service. Gaffney opened her store to supply Martin with the elastic she needed to complete her mission of helping Einstein’s medical workers. 

  “I love Doni. She’s one of my best customers and she’s such a sweetheart,” Gaffney said. “When she called me I didn’t hesitate to jump into action. The thing is, not only has Donielle called my store about purchasing elastic. I’ve been bombarded with calls asking for elastic because a lot of people are making face masks right now.

Normally people might not think of a business such as a fabric store as an essential business, but as it turns out, we are. To be very clear, I believe in following all rules and regulations related to businesses being closed during this coronavirus pandemic. 

However, I was getting so many requests for the purchase of elastic that I reached out to my councilperson’s office, which would be Cindy Bass. Councilwoman Bass had a conversation with officials from the 14th Police District and it was deemed that as long as I did curbside service for elastic bands and other supplies so people could make face masks, it would be ok, due to the dire need.”

“I’m shipping stuff all across the country right now, because people are running out of elastic, those that are making face masks. I’m sitting here in a store that’s filled with fabric and these people need the supplies. It was making me crazy that I couldn’t service my customers in a time of need, until after I spoke with Councilwoman [Cindy] Bass”, said Gaffney. “I’m getting 60 or more text messages a day from people, asking for elastic in particular, so that people can make masks. Our business has been around for 50 years, this year and I’m so proud that Gaffney’s Fabrics is able to be an essential business in this time of such great urgency.”

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