“Every time somebody asks me how I’m doing I always tell them, ‘Hanging in there.’ What I really mean is, ‘Send sushi and whiskey.’”
This Facebook post from Bossier City resident Jessy Gillespie isn’t about boredom during the COVID-19 quarantine. It’s actually about her fatigue from sewing facemasks for almost one week straight.
The professional cosplayer, seamstress, and costume maker used her skills to help the community by creating a Facebook group, Sew You Care, that is answering the desperate pleas for facemasks. They are creating masks for hospital workers, senior care professionals, first responders, delivery people, and others who have been going without due to a widespread shortage.
Sew You Care enlists the help of volunteers who sew reusable, fabric masks. It gained traction across the country with more and more seamstresses volunteering to help. In less than a week, the movement has already surpassed its initial goal of volunteers and masks produced.
By Monday, there were 3,000-plus participants cranking out more than 5,000 masks. Now, Gillespie has received messages from residents of South Africa, Italy, Germany, France, and England wanting to create the movement in their own respective country.
“It doesn’t feel real. I get a message per minute and it’s comforting to know there are so many people out there who feel like I do,” said Gillespie.
The masks are washable and made from woven cotton. The fabric is pre-washed and then washed again after being sewn. While they are homemade and not medical grade, they act as a barrier and can help prolong the life of N95 masks that are being overused because of the shortage.
“We can’t solve the problem, we are just trying to buy time until the problem can be fixed,” Gillespie explained. “It’s about that 70-year-old grandmother teaching her grandkids to sew and they’re producing 200 masks a day for their local nursing homes and hospitals.”
Locally, healthcare facilities have expressed their gratitude. Gillespie received a picture of the nurses celebrating the delivery of their masks. She noted their gratitude was an expression of the community’s backing, saying, “These are people who usually feel invisible. Now they know people care about their safety instead of us only caring about ourselves when we’re sick.”
Caring about her community is nothing new for Jessy. She has been involved with the Cajun Navy and Tia’s Hope Memories in the Moonlight among other volunteer efforts. In fact, she was shocked she sat out helping in this crisis for as long as she did. Her Facebook post announcing Sew You Care said, “I really tried to sit back and not do anything this time around. Apparently I couldn’t.”
For her, it’s simply what you should do for the place you live in. She says these people that are being helped are her nurses and doctors, this is her home, and she believes in living where you help and helping where you live.
She feels that the movement is an illustration of the American Spirit — families uniting to help strangers in a time of crisis.
“I hear stories of grandmothers who took part in helping during WWII who have light again by helping people. Nurses tell me of patients in nursing homes who haven’t gotten out of the bed in years are now sewing with their grandchildren,” Gillespie explained.
To all the people who are helping sew, delivering masks, finding places in need, and other unsung heroes across Sew You Care, she simply wanted to thank them.
“This was an idea and they turned it into reality, a movement, and now a mindset of helping. This is not possible without every single person who has liked, shared, and commented on Facebook, or the first-time seamstresses,” Gillespie said.
She also singled out south Bossier’s Chris Graham who has been delivering the masks directly. She noted that Graham did so while taking on a lot of risks, but “that’s who he is.”
If you are looking for a way to get involved with Sew You Care, more seamstresses are needed. If you want to help but do not sew, volunteers are still needed to scour the internet for any doctor’s offices, hospitals or nursing homes that are currently asking for homemade fabric masks.
Donations are not being sought, and materials are not being accepted in order to prevent cross-contamination.
Gillespie said that the best help right now is just some positivity and recognition.
“Most people could use some support or encouragement because they’re like me and have been sewing for days on end.”
For more information, the Sew You Care website has a lot of good resources available. There are three patterns and tutorials, as well as links to the CDC and WHO recommendations on fabric masks. The site also features forms for seamstresses to fill out regarding masks that are delivered, as well as, forms for healthcare providers to request a mask.
To stay up-to-date on the success of the mission and connect with other volunteers, join their Facebook group. There you can find documentation of needs that have been sourced, what’s been produced, and what’s been delivered.
Photos courtesy of Jesy Gillespie, Brittany Griffin Bennett, and Sew You Care’s FB Group Page