We can all be heroes in the time of COVID-19

Superhero fabric makes superhero masks for health care heroes.

News stories are filled with images of health care heroes in medical facilities nationwide treating patients sickened with the novel coronavirus. No one would disagree with that characterization — those working on the front lines deserve nothing less than our full respect, not to mention hazard pay. That includes not only health care workers, but all essential workers restocking grocery shelves and making deliveries.

What about the rest of us? How can we rise to the challenge of service? You don’t need to have superpowers to make a difference and become a hero in your own right, even if it’s in a limited fashion.

Here are just two examples on how people are stepping up during this time. We may not personally be working on finding a cure, treatment, or vaccine for COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be part of the force that helps those who have been affected by this global pandemic.

Food insecurity. Food pantries throughout the country are being overrun with requests from new clients. With the national number of people filing claims for unemployment now reaching nearly 39 million, it’s no surprise that people need help to feed their families.

We’ve seen the staggering photos of what looks like miles of cars or hundreds and hundreds of people waiting in line to pick up food donations. A story from Vox spelled it out.

“Our city struggled before Covid — many … families [are] living on the edge — and Covid knocked them over the edge,” says San Antonio Food Bank President Eric Cooper.

The spike US food banks are experiencing now is unrivaled in modern history. The images of thousands queued up to receive basic necessities throw the effects of the recent economic downturn into sharp relief.

How you can help: Food banks can do more with your money than they can with the forgotten canned goods lurking in the back of your cupboards. Every dollar donated “helps secure and distribute at least 12 pounds of food — the equivalent of 10 meals — through our nationwide network of food banks,” says the Feeding America website. “Through large-scale negotiating and nationwide donation programs, we’re able to stretch your donation to make the biggest impact possible.” With a network of over 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries, Feeding America can help you find service providers in your ZIP code, whether you need food or want to volunteer.

Feeding America is not the only national group fighting hunger, but it receives high marks from both Charity Watch and Charity Navigator. Charity Navigator also has compiled a list of well-rated nonprofits responding to the coronavirus pandemic. That list contains both national and local groups and is broken down into those providing the following:

  • Medical services.
  • Relief supplies, health and medical.
  • Relief supplies, community support and services.
  • Funding local organizations.
  • Education and awareness.
  • Cross-categorical.

If there was ever a time to make a donation to help those in need, this is it. Every charity you ever supported is likely asking you to step up. It’s probably best to start with those meeting the basic need of hunger. If you can’t donate, you could still volunteer at a local food bank, especially because many regular volunteers are older and might not feel comfortable going out in public more than necessary.

The mask and PPE shortage. Before this pandemic hit, unless you worked in a medical field, I bet few of us knew that PPE stood for personal protective equipment, but now it’s an abbreviation that few of us will ever forget.

How you can help: First of all, wear a mask yourself while out in public. Just because Donald Trump refuses to wear a mask in front of a camera doesn’t mean the rest of us have to mirror such ignorance. The practice is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wearing a mask is your way of saying you care about those around you, especially for people who may not know they’re infected.

What about other masks? If you sew, you can become part of the sewing army. The New York Times chronicled stitcher’s early efforts:

All over the country, homebound Americans are crafting thousands upon thousands of face masks to help shield doctors, nurses and many others from the coronavirus.

They are pulling together to meet an urgent need: Hospitals, overwhelmed by the fast-spreading pandemic, are burning through their supplies of protective gear, in particular masks, at an alarming rate. Doctors and nurses are getting sick and dying.

Because I sew, I decided to start making masks. A local group in my Chicago suburb started small, with one person who said, “I can’t cure corona, but I can sew a mask.” She and another mask-maker formed a Facebook group that started with a handful of members. It gradually added more volunteers to become an army of sewers, suppliers, and supporters. Its geographic volunteer base spread from one suburb to throughout the Chicago area.

Chicago Mask Makers is run by seven volunteer leaders, all women and moms, one of whom is a registered nurse, but they haven’t all met each other in person. “We bonded with a common mission,” said one of the group’s administrators, Christine Baumbach (full disclosure: I knew Baumbach before COVID-19; we carpooled to our kids’ preschool).

While the group has about 2,000 members in support, many of whom have donated supplies, about 200 take part in actual mask-making. They sew; cut fabric squares; track down elastic, pipe cleaners, metal nose pieces, thread, and nonwoven fabric; and transport supplies, since some of the older volunteer sewers don’t drive. The group’s Facebook page and website offer online tutorials and a PDF with step-by-step instructions on how to sew a mask.

Medical organizations in need of masks can fill out a request form. So far, in the group’s two months of existence, more than 13,000 masks have been donated to health care professionals at more than 40 area hospitals, ICUs, ERs, birthing centers, nursing homes, and clinics, but there’s always a waiting list of requests. “We opened it up to first responders, so anybody who is caring for a COVID patients is welcome to ask for masks,” Baumbach said.

“So many of our sewers had not sewn in 20 years, but it was incredible how many people were willing to step up and say, ‘I can contribute.’ It’s very gratifying,” Baumbach added.

“We have not done any real fundraising. Almost everything has been donated, but for some things we do need to buy, such as elastic, someone steps up with a donation.”

Sewing these masks has made me feel that I’m making a contribution. When I pick up fabric squares each week, I like to imagine that they were leftover fabric from a loved one’s quilt or a child’s curtains. I felt like I scored a home run when I received fabric with Marvel superheroes.

I keep telling myself, “This isn’t Project Runway,” but I like to coordinate the fabric and non-woven backing. Dark blue fabric and orange backing? I hope that hospital has lots of Bears fans. Yellow fabric and backing with blue ties? Maybe that will go to a Michigan Wolverine.

I’ve made more than 100 masks, when I count masks I’ve sewed for friends, family, church members, and health professionals. But I feel like a total slacker compared with what Rob and Susan Parks are doing.

The Parkses (full disclosure again: I’ve known Susan since our days in the PTO of the elementary school our kids attended) started a network to make and donate 8,000 face shields for health care professionals throughout Chicago. They use a 3-D printer to create a plastic frame. A heavy-duty plastic page protector, like the kind bought at an office supply store, serves as the actual shield. They put out a call for volunteers and have dubbed their group the “Noble Army.” It’s up to 40 people creating 200 frames a day, according to WTTW, the local PBS station (click link to play video).


The couple also created a website with directions on how to make such frames on a 3-D printer. The cost per unit is about $1, and donations are covering much of those costs. “I will be glad when what we do is not necessary anymore,” Susan Parks told WTTW, “because that means that people will not need this type of protection. But while it is there we will fill the need.”

You likely have a volunteer story one of your own, with a talent of your own that you’re using to help others during this time.

But we all have a superpower that we don’t need to keep hidden. We can use that power in the months leading up to Nov. 3 to elect people who share our empathy for patients, those out of work, and those on the front lines. Work for the candidates of your choice, even if social distancing requires a new kind of campaigning and volunteering from home. Send postcards. Make phone calls. Most of all, VOTE.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head to the basement to sew some more masks.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 27, 2020.

2 Comments on “We can all be heroes in the time of COVID-19”

  1. Thanks for mentioning the Face Shield project! Hope that faceshieldfactory.org gets passed on by followers so other regions can replicate what we were able to do!

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