By Claudia Watson
They are digging through their closets and drawers for old sheets, napkins, quilting cotton, and yes, even Brooks Brothers shirts, and within the first hour, they delivered.
The steady stream of people continues to unload stacks of colorful fabrics and elastic onto the front porch of Lydia and John Boesch’s home in Pinewild — now the command center for Operation Face Mask.
“To say the response has been astounding is an understatement of gargantuan proportions,” says retired Admiral Leighton “Snuffy” Smith, who serves as the president of the Pinewild Property Owners Association.
Spurred on by Lydia Boesch and a few home seamstresses, Smith sent out an email last Wednesday enlisting efforts of Pinewild residents to make face masks to help shield those at high risk to the exposure from the advancing COVID-19 coronavirus.
“It’s resulted in a tsunami of donated fabric and people offering to cut fabric and sew,” says Boesch, who also serves on the Pinehurst Village Council. FirstHealth of the Carolinas decided to allow donations of protective fabric masks for health care workers that are made by the community last week.
The DIY masks are no substitute for the high-grade N-95 masks, which are in short supply globally, and they are not a good as surgical masks, which are no longer plentiful. But the home-sewn masks offer some protection and free up surgical masks for health care workers and first responders who are at the highest risk.
Within hours of Smith’s email, Pinewild residents pulled together. They established a supply chain, production and fabrication units, and delivery operation. Boesch packages the fabric for the two-dozen “pattern cutters,” who then return fabric pieces to Boesch’s porch, where it’s available for the seamstress corps to pick it up.
Pinewild tapped Kathy Lannon as the “Needle Czar,” who collects machine needles from residents and distributes replacements for those seamstresses who experience an all-too-frequent needle breakage dilemma.
“The machines are running at full capacity, and it’s difficult to find needle replacements,” says Smith.
Lannon also handles sewing machine “match-ups,” between wanna-be seamstresses and those who have a sewing machine gathering dust.
Parked at their dining room tables and in their studio lofts, each the nearly 30 seamstress makes an average of 12-14 masks a day. Accompanied by the soft whirring of their machines, they are transforming their once-quiet homes into pop-up fabrication facilities.
“I have a sewing background and a basic Singer sewing machine and am more than happy to sew masks,” says Pinewild resident Armecia Medlock. “I’m in the higher risk group of people for the coronavirus, so volunteering outside of my home isn’t an option. I’m excited that I can volunteer in this way.”
Sunday, Boesch delivered the 300th Pinewild-made mask to a nondescript collection bin sitting outside the FirstHealth Fitness Center in Pinehurst. FirstHealth picks them up in the afternoon and sterilizes them before distributing. As of Tuesday, the total was up to 600.
Boesch says the Operation Face Mask team is all in, and its volunteer army growing and prepared to sew as long as the materials are available.
“The response of our community is more than uplifting and heartwarming,” says Smith. “It’s a clear demonstration of the spirit, generosity, and selflessness of our Pinewild family.”
Claudia Watson is a freelance writer with a Singer sewing machine to loan.
Article is reprinted with permission of The Pilot, Southern Pines, NC, 2020