LSU AgCenter volunteers and 4-H members from around the state are doing their part to keep healthcare workers safe.
From Livingston and West Feliciana parishes in southeast Louisiana to Winn and other northern parishes, the sewing machines are humming.
AgCenter nutrition agent Layne Langley said the Port Vincent Volunteers for Family & Community club in Livingston Parish has made more than 650 masks.
“Six ladies in this club are providing masks to healthcare facilities in south Louisiana,” she said. “These facilities include Baton Rouge Clinic, Baton Rouge General, Ochsner Baton Rouge, Chateau D’ville, Chateau St. James, Iberville Oaks, Plaquemine Manor, Gulfport Behavioral Health, The Pearl of Jamestown and Jefferson Manor.”
Clinics and hospitals are handing the masks out to anyone who enters their doors and giving them to patients on release from the hospital, and medical staff members are using them in conjunction with their N95 masks.
“Of course the masks are in huge demand for nursing home personnel,” said Gene Ducote, a Port Vincent club member. “As the epidemic worsens, we’ve seen growth in the number of everyday people wanting them in order to have something when they’re out in public.”
The volunteers started sewing the facemasks on March 21. It wasn’t long before word got out, and they started getting numerous requests. They have sewed them daily since then, Ducote said.
“There were long days at the cutting tables and sewing machines, but then hearing the desperate plea from nursing homes and hospitals, we had to keep sewing,” Ducote said.
Ducote said as they gain experience, the volunteers are getting faster.
“But some of us are sewing eight to 10 hours a day,” she said. This includes washing and ironing the fabric, cutting the fabric and elastic, assembling and sewing the masks, then ironing again.”
Langley said when they first started, it took about 15 to 20 minutes per mask to assemble, but now it’s taking between 10 and 15 minutes per mask.
“Each one is made individually, and great care is taken to make sure they will fit, will be comfortable and will hopefully sustain multiple washings and sanitizing,” Ducote said.
“We’ve seen tutorials online and gotten ideas from other mask makers, since none of us have ever done this before,” Ducote said. “We all sew from our individual homes. We share ideas, patterns and fabrics.”
The volunteers meet once a week in a public parking lot to turn in the masks.
“The volunteers saw a great need,” Langley said. “They heard pleas from nurses, clinic personnel and hospital staff, and they wanted to do whatever they could to combat this horrible virus. They have sewing skills and knew that whatever they could contribute would help, even if in just a small way.”
Ten-year-old Annalynn DeBusk, a first-year Winn Parish 4-H member, has made more than a dozen masks for Winn Family Medicine, where her mom works as a registered nurse.
Annalynn said she picked up many helpful sewing tips when she attended 4-H Fashion Camp with her mom in January before the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I had used a sewing machine before, but I had forgotten how, and I learned some things that I didn’t know before,” Annalynn said. “Learning to backstitch was especially helpful since I chose to make the kind of masks with elastic ear pieces.”
Winn Parish 4-H member Anna Little has just about depleted her sewing stash while making masks for her local community and will soon be sending more to Baton Rouge General Hospital.
Anna first started making the masks for her cousins who work in hospitals in the surrounding area, then she shared more masks with church members in need.
“4-H has taught me how to sew, and I can use that skill to help someone else,” Anna said.
LSU AgCenter 4-H youth development agent Nan Arthur said 4-H members and volunteers have produced more than 300 protective cloth masks and distributed them to first responders in Sabine and Vernon parishes. The fabric and supplies for the masks were donated by Louisiana Rep. Rodney Schamerhorn.
In West Feliciana Parish, Landry Brouillette, a seventh-grade homeschooler who has been involved in 4-H and the 4-H sewing club for four years, is also doing her part to provide masks for those who need them.
Landry’s mom, who is a veterinarian, understands the need for personal protective equipment for the medical and veterinary professionals.
“We researched the best masks for personal protection and began using a pattern recommended by a hospital,” said Dr. Sonya Brouillette. “These masks include a pocket to add a filter for extra protection."
Audrey Reinhardt and Elaina Singleton, who are also from West Feliciana Parish, have been making masks for family and friends. Elaina has also donated some to doctors and nurses.
Audrey said her father wears his mask to work daily. The rest will be donated to the local nursing home.