BY DEBORAH MOON
As doctors, nurses, other frontline workers and vulnerable individuals have scrambled to find masks during this pandemic, an army of volunteer sewers and people with connections to mask suppliers have stepped up to help fill the need.
At Cedar Sinai Park alone, donations have flowed in – including 1,000 from David Saltzman, whose mother Ruth Saltzman lives at CSP’s Rose Schnitzer Manor; 900 made by Sew to Save volunteers; and more than 100 from Sharon Flock.
CSP CEO Kimberly Fuson says, “We are deeply touched by and grateful for the generosity of David Saltzman, Lisa Schneiderman (Sew to Save), Sharon Flock and countless others who have so lovingly fashioned masks in every fabric, design and size to assure each resident and staff member of Cedar Sinai Park are safely ‘covered’ on our campuses and at home … that’s over 1,000 lives protected by these social action angels!”
The donors are emblematic of the ingenuity of volunteers, who stepped in early in the crisis. While in the past couple weeks, large corporations have turned their resources to making PPEs (personal protective equipment), in the early days of the pandemic, it was individuals who took the lead.
Sharon Flock has churned out more than 800 masks on her 26-year-old sewing machine. She has been shopping for material and sewing or delivering masks from 5:30 am to 11 pm every day for nearly two months, though she did take off a day for her 70th birthday May 7.
Sharon takes a personal approach to her mask making. She likes to provide a bit of whimsy in her masks. She gave CSP bingo caller “Bingo Barbie” Enkelis a bingo mask. She sent pet-themed masks to vet techs and masks decorated with money to Key Bank. A Portland native, she also has sewn masks for a multitude of relatives in the Nudelman and Nemer families.
Founded on April 3, Sew to Save has taken a much broader approach. The volunteer group now has more than 600 sewers and more than 60 delivery drivers, who distribute at least 1,000 masks a week.
Sew to Save is the brainchild of Public Relations professional Lisa Schneiderman, who has devoted her career to cause-related publicity. While growing up in Portland, Lisa says she was immersed in the importance of tikkun olam. She calls Rabbi Joshua Stampfer, z”l, a huge influence. As a teen she served as president, vice president and membership chair of BBYO and was a camp counselor at B’nai B’rith Camp for five summers.
“Tikkun olam was engrained in my soul,” says Lisa.
So on March 22, she reached out to doctor and nurse friends and asked what they most needed. She heard horror stories, including a delivery room nurse who said her nursing assistant had a panic attack while the two were delivering a baby without masks.
“That told me a lot of nurses and doctors were having major anxiety without personal protective equipment,” says Lisa. “I thought it was unbelievable this was happening in the United States.”
So she decided to tackle the problem in a big way. She turned to her friend Lisa Schroeder (chef and owner of Mother’s Bistro) to help spread the story. “We’re cut from the same cloth; it’s (tikkun olam) in our blood.” She recruited tech expert Joseph Krahn from ShiloRune to build a website and Kathleen Krushas of To the Point Collaborative to design a logo.
The four have become partners in Sew to Save, which has expanded its initial focus on health-care workers to include all first responders. In addition to giving masks to CSP and health-care staff at numerous hospitals and medical clinics, they also filled requests for masks from the Oregon Food Bank and Jewish Family and Child Service. The two Lisas will be sharing their tikkun olam story on a Zoom program with local Lions of Judah later this month. Lions are women who make gifts of $5,000 or more to the Jewish Federation’s Campaign for Community Needs.
All masks made by Sew to Save volunteers are from two patterns approved by doctors and nurses; the masks have two or three layers of fabric and a pocket that will hold a filter.
One of Lisa Schneiderman’s neighbors stepped in early to help in another way. Formerly a Nike employee, the neighbor had maintained supply-chain relationships in China when he opened his own small athletic footwear company. He told Lisa he could get her 1,000 surgical-grade masks from China within a week. Knowing the difficulties hospitals and governments were having arranging shipments in those early days, Lisa was skeptical. But exactly a week later, he brought 1,000 masks to her door.
Those wanting to volunteer (to sew or deliver masks) or to request masks can fill out a form on sewtosave.org under the “Your Role” tab.