By Kara Witherow, Editor
In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, it often helps to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.
That’s what many South Georgia sewers are doing: focusing their efforts on serving those in need and offering a solution to health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
In Albany, hard hit by COVID-19, Phoebe Putney Health System recently said they were running low on critical supplies. As of Sunday morning, April 5, a total of 139 COVID-19 patients were being treated in Phoebe Putney Health System’s main hospital.
Volunteers from around the region and country immediately offered to help by sewing face masks.
Sylvia Broadaway, a member of Albany First United Methodist Church, has been sewing for as long as she can remember. Working as a seamstress, she put herself through college by making dresses and doing alterations.
She’s recently put her skills to use by making masks, teaching others how to make them, and helping coordinate a volunteer effort to make hundreds more.
“It was such a God thing. I was writing in my journal asking God to show me what to do,” Broadaway said. “About that time Laura (Haygood, Albany First UMC’s Director of Missions and Outreach) texted and asked if anyone wanted to sew masks for Phoebe (Putney Health System). Next thing I know, I’m thrown right in the middle of the project!”
The hand-made masks protect N95 masks from getting soiled. The covers can be laundered, sterilized, and reused so the N95 masks can be used more than once, Broadaway said. Instead of using one N95 mask per patient, by using the hand-made masks on top of N95 masks, healthcare workers may only need to use one N95 mask per day, she said.
“It’s been a blessing to see God’s hand in all of this,” she said. “Our community has stepped up big time.”
Growing up, Kendra Gannaway helped her mother create custom window treatments. As a music graduate student, she made her own performance gowns. Now she’s sewing face masks for healthcare workers.
The cone-shaped masks she makes also cover the now hard-to-find N95 respirator masks and extend their life spans, said Gannaway, a member of Tifton First United Methodist Church.
The masks are being sent to Tift Regional Medical Center in Tifton where they are used by nurses and doctors.
“It is a very helpless and useless feeling to not be part of the healthcare community or contributing an essential service,” she said. “I want to help; I want to fix things. And I figured this might be a way I can help.”
Gannaway, who made a YouTube tutorial video showing how to make the masks, says her faith is instrumental in this effort. She and others who are making the masks pray over each as they’re made and for those who will use them.
“We’re being God’s hands and feet here,” she said.
Karen Knowlton has led The Chapel’s sewing group for five years. What started as a small group to teach others how to sew has grown into a ministry that helps meet the community’s needs, Knowlton said.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the group had made chemotherapy port pads for cancer patients at Brunswick’s Southeast Georgia Health System. A couple of weeks ago, the health system asked Knowlton if the group could start making masks instead.
The women have already made and delivered more than 100 masks to the Cancer Care Center and more are on the way. They’re being used by cancer patients undergoing treatment.
“If there’s a call out there and a need out there, we’ll do whatever we’re asked to do. If there’s a need we try to meet the need,” Knowlton said. “Everyone has a purpose.”
Want to lend a hand? Mask-making instructions and lists of needed supplies are posted online at www.phoebehealth.com/coronavirus. The hospital group said masks can be mailed to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, c/o Supply Chain, 1108 North Monroe St. Albany, Ga., 31701.
Step-by-step instructions to make cloth masks for Tift Regional Medical Center in Tifton.