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In the early hours of March 21 I was in a state of panic, having just begun our “new normal.” I had been working from home for a week and our sons were somewhere between distance learning and spring break. I was scrubbing hard, bleaching doorknobs and obsessively lecturing my parents on the rules. Thankfully a friend on social media began to share ideas about how to make and distribute cloth masks for first responders who had just begun to wage war on COVID-19. I wanted to try to do the same. I needed to find a way to help.

Out of a whirlwind of posting and sharing, Masks for Pinellas County Healthcare Providers was born. Within hours, friends of friends in the Belleair/Clearwater area were sharing, sewing and asking how they could help. Some had already begun sewing and were just looking for a way to donate. Almost immediately, a call came from Margie Friedman, who was coordinating deliveries in North Pinellas County, and Hope Griffin, who was doing the same in St. Petersburg.

Volunteer mask-maker Kimberly Snedeker.

And then the requests came pouring in…

Labor and delivery nurses. Doctors in and out of the hospital setting. Entire NICU units and visiting parents. A teenage boy with a failed kidney transplant who was receiving dialysis. A family who had been exposed to their father, a physician, who was infected.

Soon the group learned that fire departments as far away as Lealman and as close by as Largo were in need. A man living with a heart transplant needed a mask. The amazing foster care families at Pinellas Youth Ranch and other group homes made urgent requests. Baycare, Largo Med and Johns Hopkins All Children’s hospitals all developed drop-off points and guidelines to allow for distribution.

Volunteer mask-maker Kacey Matthews.

The only thing that was growing as quickly as the requests was the number of people willing to sew. Friends and neighbors began to reveal their hidden talents, and companies stepped in. Irmi Watson of Irmi’s Alterations in Belleair Bluffs donated her time and stitched a minimum of 20 masks per day. Lisa Chandler of Pier 60 Concessions faced the challenge of her business being closed and finding work for employees, and made the quick decision to ask the people who sew the Pier’s umbrellas and beach chairs to start producing masks instead. She also enlisted employees to shop for supplies (they almost wiped out the elastics inventory at the local Joann Fabrics). In a week over 600 masks were delivered to Baycare.

In the last six weeks, organizers and runners have gotten masks to over 2,000 faces. There has been no exchange of money, just trading of supplies. While the group’s initial focus was strictly on healthcare providers, as the PPEs have been replenished the group has been able to do community outreach and support RCS Pinellas and the Salvation Army.

I feel both proud and humbled to have found a way to help.

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