By Phoebe Muthart
KOSCIUSKO COUNTY — When the call came in for masks, due to the COVID-19 crisis, one Leesburg woman knew she needed to spring into action. Ever since, Marsha Frantisak of Leesburg has been making masks for United Way of Kosciusko County.
So far, she has made over 250 masks herself. United Way has donated the masks to two of the Warsaw hospitals as well as Cardinal Services, Warsaw.
Frantisak was asked to be a team leader and has since led seven sewers or so at a time. The group, as well as other women, has made adult and children’s masks.
When she first came on board to help with the project, when United Way contacted her, Frantisak started sewing right away when she was told, “We need 500 in two weeks.”
Since then, United Way has provided the material and the elastic.
“I’ve been cutting kits,” she said. “I’ve cut over 1,000 masks but not sewed them all.”
United Way volunteers delivered more than 4,000 masks to Parkview Hospital, Kosciusko Community Hospital and Cardinal Services over the last six weeks.
“When United Way asked the community for help, dozens of volunteers came forward. They asked only one question – how can we help?” said Darren Bickel of United Way of Kosciusko County. “Overnight, the ‘United We Sew’ initiative was born.”
The volunteer seamstress got right to work, making several different designs.
“At first, we just make N-95 covers to extend the life of the essential personal protection equipment,” said Sharon Sallot, United Way’s vice president of development. “But quickly the demand for cloth masks for the nonmedical workers, patients and family members grew.”
A chance encounter with the post office revealed that letter carriers didn’t have enough masks either. By the end of the week, masks were delivered to every Warsaw post office employee.
As production got into full swing, a new challenge emerged — there was a need for a lot more fabric and elastic. United Way reached out to its network of businesses and once again the call was answered. Lowery Sewing and Vacuum Center, Warsaw, supplied reams of material. Kosciusko Community Hospital provided a matching grant to encourage community donations.
DePuy Synthes’ employees provided the elastic at just the right time. Most of the volunteers dug into their own supply cabinets to meet the community goals.
Frantisak said many others have sewn a lot more masks than she has.
“There is at least one individual that has sewn over 1,000 masks since the call went out for handmade masks,” she noted.
Over the last two weeks, the focus grew to include children. The volunteers made more than 500 children’s masks, which were distributed inside United Way’s Busy Bags project. Busy Bags were passed out over the last six weeks to children five and under at the school’s free lunch sites. Busy Bags include a book, an activity, an Imagination Library sign-up card and a mask.
“Great things can be accomplished when we come together and ‘Live United,’ ” Bickel said.
Masks continue to be needed for families coming into the hospitals for regular or non COVID-19 treatments. United Way continues to need volunteers to sew. To help make masks through June, contact Sharon Sallot at [email protected] or call (574) 269-2592, ext. 110.