Susabelle Kelmer didn’t think twice about volunteering to make face masks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in Colorado — she just sat down at her sewing machine and got to work.
Kelmer, 58, now spends all of her evenings after work and many hours on the weekends in her Greeley basement, cutting fabric, measuring elastic, ironing pleats and sewing masks for a grassroots initiative started by Longmont craft shop The Hidden Treasure 2.
Mother-daughter duo Betty Aldrich and Sandy Noonan, who own the store, have organized an army of 60 to 70 volunteer crafters to undertake a Herculean effort: sewing masks for anyone and everyone who needs one.
So far, the store has distributed more than 15,000 free masks in Colorado — and the number grows every day.
Need a mask? Want to help or donate?
Call The Hidden Treasure 2: 720-340-9951
“I am health-compromised, so I know that if I get sick from this, it’s not going to be good,” said Kelmer, who alone has made more than 1,000 masks for the cause. “I want to encourage people to mask up, and that’s hard to do if you don’t have a mask.”
As with many projects, the mask-making initiative started small and quickly took on a life of its own. Noonan, a retired nurse, got a call from a Longmont senior care facility in early March. Staff there knew that she owned an arts and crafts consignment store and wondered if she could make a few masks. She found a simple pattern and got to work sewing.
Not long after, Noonan and Aldrich had to close their retail store on north Main Street under Gov. Jared Polis’ statewide mandate.
The mask-making mission became their full-time effort. Then a few regular customers heard what they were doing and offered to help.
The project snowballed from there.
“They just started bringing in a dozen or so at a time, then my husband put it on our Facebook page and it just grew,” said Noonan, 52.
The volunteers work at home and at their own pace, sewing as many masks as they can muster. Some are expert sewers with years of experience, churning out hundreds of masks a week, while others are pulling out their sewing machines for the first time in years and doing what they can.
People who don’t sew at all are donating fabric, elastic and other items to help the cause, which Noonan and Aldrich have been distributing to the volunteers. Other volunteer mask-makers insist on purchasing material and other supplies from the store to help keep The Hidden Treasure 2 in business. (It seems to have worked — the store is reopening under the state’s “Safer at Home” guidelines.)
Aldrich often finds herself overwhelmed with gratitude when she stops to think about how many people have stepped up to help.
“Most of the time I just cry,” said Aldrich, 72. “I just appreciate them so much, even if they just do 10. When the shop does open and I can give them hugs, boy, you better believe I will be giving them hugs and saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ ”
Noonan speculates that crafters may be a little bored at home. But, she said, they also feel good supporting a small business and serving their community, the best way they know how.
“Besides boredom, I just think they want to help the community,” she said. “And with us being the hub, most of them are our customers and they just want to help us out and keep us going. They’re just helping in any way they can.”
Because of their skill sets and experience, crafters are also uniquely qualified for this pandemic-specific project that can make a big difference.
“It’s in our DNA somehow,” said Kelmer, the volunteer mask-maker. “Sewing is my zen time. Sitting in front of my machine is my peaceful time. You start out with scraps of this and scraps of that and you end up with something really cool. How can you not keep doing that?”
In addition to giving away masks to individuals, the store and its crew of volunteers have provided them to multiple senior care facilities, fire departments, animal shelters, veterinary hospitals, school districts, government agencies, nonprofits, restaurants and retail stores — the list is long, and it keeps growing.
And they’ll be working around the clock for the foreseeable future to help even more.
“Did we ever think it would go this far? Never in our wildest dreams,” said Aldrich. “But then this is a new thing for the whole world. And we all have to work to make it come back together.”
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