Stronger Together, Volunteers Rise to the Task of Protecting a Community

By now everyone has heard the old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Well, in 2020 life as we knew it turned into the biggest lemonade stand in history, as the global pandemic known as COVID-19 ravaged our country and pretty much every inch of the globe.

As is the case so often when unbearable tragedy hits the human race, heroes emerge from the most inconspicuous of sources, in this case Suzanne Schwarz-Green, Amy Overhotlzer, and 8 others rose to the occasion. 

Schwarz-Green, the pastor at Trinity Reformed Church UCC and her counterpart Overholtzer were determined to help in any way they could to battle the pandemic that had gripped our community.

“I honestly don’t remember when exactly we started, but it became clear early on in the pandemic that wearing masks was one of the important steps each of us can take to curb the spread,” said Suzzane Schwarz-Green. “When masks became mandatory in stores, I felt that there was a justice issue in that some people may not be able to afford masks or even be able to get to a store to purchase one.”

“I saw crazy prices for masks and, overall, the availability was limited.” added Schwarz-Green. “Believing that no person should be prevented from doing essential activities such as shopping for groceries or visiting doctors and no person should have to spend money in order to do those things, making masks for the community for free seemed like a logical next step.”

It was at that point that Schwarz-Green and Overhotlzer went to task rallying their congregation and circle of friends to gather voluntarily to make as many masks as they could to help “flatten the curve” as it was so continually hammered home by the media.

“It was early April I think,” said Overholtzer. “Pastor Suzanne asked for volunteers to sew after requests from the community. The original pattern that we used was recommended by a local hospital.”

The donated material, from the public, was washed and cut into appropriately sized rectangles. Sides of rectangles were stitched together, openings pressed. Pleats were folded in and pressed. Sides were sewn together. Outside pieces were sewn on and then pressed to form the end cap. Elastic was strung through and the process for each mask wound up taking about 20 minutes to make.

“Masks were expensive and hard to find.” added Schwarz-Green.” Also, making cloth masks allowed medical masks to go to medical personnel that needed them badly.” 

Schwarz-Green was amazed by the response to the call for helpers and materials. “We used donated fabrics and elastics as well as our own sewing machines and thread purchased by those who were sewing.” Schwarz-Green said. “Supplies were also purchased from monetary donations we received. We also used donated t-shirts and ribbons to make fabric ties.” 

In an assembly line fashion involving at least three cutters and washers and five people sewing, the Trinity team proceeded to produce between 3,500 and 4,000 masks, which at this point in the pandemic were so sorely needed.

“Folks called the church office to make a request, masks were bagged up and labeled and left outside for people to pick up.” Overholtzer said. “There was no charge for the masks, they were distributed mainly through our community to places like hospitals, SPCA, fire departments, and township community centers.” 

Pastor Suzzane Schwarz-Green and Amy Overlholtzer went out to help others with no thought of personal reward or economic gain.

“We stopped counting around 3,000 but we believe we are close to 5,000 masks made.” said Schwarz-Green.” Many at the beginning were not counted and so we had to guess, we sent so many out to private people, hospitals, doctors office, businesses, Indian reservations, senior facilities, schools, daycares – they went just about everywhere where there was need.”

Some of the masks were dropped off in person, some were mailed – but most were picked up at the church which of course in the COVID-19 world meant the pick up was contactless as most of our lives have become. Masks were not the only item being made to help fight the COVID-19 battle. Scrub caps and gowns were made for hospital employees.

Life’s lemons? Making lemonade indeed they are!