Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Tri-Lakes crafters mobilize around COVID-19 masks

gail brillWhile it can be easy to feel helpless when shut inside during the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of crafters in the Tri-lakes area of the Adirondacks have sprung into action, sewing and distributing cloth masks to essential workers around the area.

The project started with Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake and has quickly grown to include other “frontline” workers, said Gail Brill, who along with two other women, is helping to organize the project.

“I touched base with a friend who works at the hospital, asking what they need,” she said. They adapted a pattern for fabric masks to create one designed to fit over N-95 masks to extend their use.

From there, word spread and requests started coming in from other places. Brill said the group is currently working with places that care for and house vulnerable populations, such as Sunmount and Mercy Living Center in Tupper Lake, St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment Centers, and Will Rogers retirement community in Saranac Lake. 

“The list is long and keeps growing,” she said of expanding the outreach to postal workers and grocery store employees. “We want to be able to help everyone who is an essential worker.”

Brill, working with fellow Saranac Lake residents Susan Waters and Lindy Ellis, has created a private group on Facebook to communicate with the network of sewers around the Tri-lakes region. Currently, the group has around 25 members, many of whom are using and contributing their own supplies. Those who need fresh supplies get in touch with Brill, who assembles kits for them they pick up in her driveway.

Brill takes care to package everything with gloves on, and leaves the packages outside to eliminate contact. “My 91-year-old mom lives with me, I’m trying to keep her safe.”

The makers wash the masks before dropping them off on Waters’ porch, and they are taken to Adirondack Health for sanitization before further distribution.

According to Waters, the mobilization has been impressive to start, with 148 masks distributed the first week, another 150 this week and another 150 planned the following week. And the group will continue as long as there’s a need, said Brill, who has become a “mask expert” over the past month.

She recently unveiled a new pattern for the group to use, one that uses a polypropylene material for a filter in the middle of the mask, using a roll of 100 yards that was donated to the group. It’s breathable and washable and has an N-99 rating (the number is the percentage of particles that get filtered out).

To address the issue of cloth masks not fitting as tightly on the face, the group has devised a way to sew in a twist-tie (the kind that comes on the top of coffee bags) into the top, which can be molded around the wearer’s nose. When members of the group ran out of elastic, which is short supply these days, they improvised using cut up strips of T-shirts.

“This team of women, we all have a little Macgyver in us,” said Brill. “This is a moment for crafts people to shine. I feel a call to duty.” 

Anyone interested in getting involved can call Brill at 518-586-1063. She has shared the following illustration the gives steps for making your own masks at home.


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Melissa is a journalist with experience as a reporter and editor with the Burlington Free Press, Ithaca Journal and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. She worked as a communications specialist for the Adirondack North Country Association and is currently digital editor for Adirondack Explorer, overseeing both the Explorer's website and its community forum the Adirondack Almanack. She enjoys hiking, camping and other outdoors activities, and spending time with her husband, their twin daughters, and rescue animals -- two dogs and two cats.

3 Responses

  1. Beverly Stellges says:

    There has also been a group from Saranac Lake organized by Patty Randolph Clark who have made many, many masks and hats.

    • Good to know, thanks!

    • Gail says:

      Hi Bev, yes, many groups have stepped up. Thankful to Debbie Harrison and her crew for making their Herculean effort to make masks for the community and filling baskets in stores all over town and for filling in the gaps where masks were needed, to Gina Norton for making sure seniors and shut in have masks, to Patti and her quilters for stepping up to make masks for ADK Health early on. The Community Makers group has been inspired by all of you!

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