By Diane Weber
Although I am not a Rotary member, I am constantly inspired by the work members are doing. Most recently, I was inspired by sister Carol Stewart, who is the President of the Rotary Club of North Jefferson in the United States.
After 30 years in the medical field, Carol knew firsthand how important it was for medical professionals to stay healthy while working. Knowing that there was not a vaccine to prevent transmitting the COVID-19 virus or a medication to cure it, the only way to slow down the disease was through personal protection.
Carol put her sewing skills to use and started making face masks. Hundreds of them. She didn’t have a pattern at first, so she just started experimenting, trying to come up with the quickest, most economical way to make masks with the most protection. Two other women joined her, and the hundreds of masks turned into thousands of masks.
The community stepped in to help, with individuals and a local fabric business donating bolts of fabric and spools of elastic. But more was needed, especially a filter lining for the masks.
Carol approached a local commercial drapery company that catered to hospitals. The company’s owner sat down with her to came up with a plan to make surgical masks and gowns for commercial use, and for her to make face masks for the public. The company also provided her with the fabric that they used to make room dividers for hospital emergency departments.
Over the coming weeks, Carol and a team of several other women made mask after mask and donated them to the medical community. Working long hours, the team averaged 200-300 masks per day, but on one excruciatingly long day, they turned out over 700 masks to donate.
“These are not meant to substitute for N95 masks,” said Carol. “But right now, there is no cure, no treatment and no vaccine for COVID-19. And the medical professionals say that any protection will help.”
The very first company to request masks from Carol’s team was the University of Alabama (UAB) Emergency Room; the masks were used for their nurses and doctors as well as for all the patients that came into the emergency department. Local police and fire departments that couldn’t get commercial masks were also asking for them. Local hospitals were reaching out daily to secure masks for every department. Local nursing homes, truck drivers, caregivers, and essential businesses all needed masks.
As the orders became overwhelming and the cost of supplies increased, Carol went to her Rotary Club of North Jefferson Alabama and recruited help. Rotarian Amee Donald took orders for masks while Rotarian Teresa Watson picked up supplies and delivered the face masks. A Facebook post encouraged donations and supplies.
Now the masks are reaching people around the world. Having been to Haiti with her club two years ago to teach sewing, Carol received calls requesting patterns and pictures from her old students making masks in Haiti. Local missionaries called for masks, patterns, and supplies to take back to Mexico.
As the pandemic progressed and a state quarantine-in-place was issued, Carol made the decision to send her sewing team to their own homes. Still there was not a vaccine or a cure for the virus, and requests for personal protection facemasks continued to grow. Carol continued to sew at home and urged others with sewing skills to do the same.
“I would like to see other Rotary members do the same thing in their communities,” said Stewart. She added, “As members, our purpose is to bring together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian service and to advance goodwill and peace around the world. For years Rotary has bridged cultures and connected continents to fight many diseases. Today our fight is COVID-19.”