Group makes nearly 10,000 masks since March

KOLD Heroes and Helpers: Local group makes nearly 10,000 masks

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -Many are doing their part to help slow the spread of COVID-19. For a group of women at the Voyager retirement community, their part is making masks—nearly 10,000 of them.

“If I’m bored…it’s not pretty,” said Connie Remetch, who makes masks.

Remetch makes sure she is never bored.

“My husband would say the (I’m the) cruise director,” she said.

When the pandemic hit, she had to do something.

“I dithered and prayed, and dithered and prayed, for about a week,” she said.

Then it hit her. As a quilter, she could use her sewing skills and fabric to make masks, but she needed help. Lynne Jensen, a fellow quilter and resident at the Voyager, was a good place to start. Her daughter works at a nursing home in Sedona, and that would be one of the first places they sent 50 masks to.

“I have a huge stash of fabric,” said Jensen.

Fabric is stuffed everywhere in Jensen’s house—kitchen cabinets, bedroom cabinets and a storage built-in along the hall. She has rolls and rolls of fabric. They started sewing, and cutting, and making a community, a mask production line with close to 20 other women.

“I just do it because it’s what you should do,” said Jensen.

This month, the group is expected to reach 10,000 masks made. They have an entire, socially-distanced assembly line.

Remetch, the “cruise director,” oversees operations and sews. Her house is home to “Mask Central.” Jensen makes mask kits with enough fabric and elastic for 10 masks. People pick the kits up at Remetch’s, where she has a golf cart outside with dozens of kits free for the taking.

Melinda Alcorn, a snowbird who stayed at the Voyager through the summer due to COVID-19, started picking up kits in the spring.

“Maybe this is the one little thing I can do from my house to help someone else,” Alcorn said.

Alcorn calls herself a “slow” sewer. Starting with a goal of only three masks, she’s now sewn about 300.

“If you just keep after it, all of a sudden you turn around and there’s 300 done,” she said.

Once she’s done, the masks are dropped back off at “Mask Central” where Remetch sorts, gathers and counts the masks for distribution. Her friend down the road, Pat Rapp has the connections on where the masks will all go. She spent time in the beginning of the pandemic calling health care centers, reservations, local organizations and more, figuring out who needed masks and how many.

" I’ve made some great friends, maybe one day I’ll actually see their whole face sometime!” said Rapp.

They group has sent masks to PACC, Banner, Indian Health Services, more than 2,000 to the Navajo nation, just to name a few. Of the nearly 10,000 they have made, 8,100 have gone outside the Voyager community. They’re currently working on sending about 550 adult and child masks to El Rio Health. It is a task that takes time for many, but Jensen can sew a mask, she said, in about four-to-seven minutes.

“I’m assuming I’ve done 600 to 700 masks,” she said

However, it’s not about the speed, it’s about the community each thread sews together. As COVID-19 has sent many indoors, including this group, they’re able to form a new community—a stitch at a time.

“It’s as beneficial to me as it would be to anybody who got the mask,” said Alcorn.

Making masks has brought these women who are blocks apart, closer—and people they’ve helped who are miles, if not states away, closer to them. The group has not bought any fabric but has used what they’ve already had on hand as quilters. Elastic is the only purchase they’ve made.

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