Laura Judge dusted off her sewing machine.
Amy Hofman came up with two boxes of disposable gloves.
Webster Thorn sorted through his wood shop and discovered 16 N95 face masks.
The three donors represent just a fraction of the West Michigan residents who have come together to help local health care workers caring for the sick during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amid a national shortage of personal protective equipment, residents created cloth face masks and delivered other needed supplies to Spectrum Health drop-off sites.
“You got to feel for people who are on the front lines in this kind of situation,” said Thorn, who delivered 16 N95 masks to the Spectrum Health Integrated Care Campus in Rockford. “They are pretty exposed if they don’t have the right equipment.”
“We’ve had an overwhelming engagement from our community,” said Sarah Chartier, senior sustainability project manager for Spectrum Health. “Many community members are staying home to help us flatten the curve.
“And while we know that is the most impactful effort individuals can take, they’re eager to do more.”
“The outpouring of generosity from our community has been humbling,” said Kurt Knoth, vice president of the system supply chain for Spectrum Health. “We are so fortunate to live in a community like ours, that is always there to help those in need. We will not forget.”
Some donors put their creative skills to use.
Judge hadn’t sewn in two years, but she brought out her sewing machine this week when she learned of the shortage of face masks.
She has friends who work in health care, including several Spectrum Health nurses. She wants to do what she can to help protect providers from the highly contagious coronavirus.
“They are putting themselves out there to help our community,” she said. “I am forever grateful. This is just one way that I could help.”
She recruited her three young children to help with the project in their Lowell home. Her daughters, 9-year-old Annalyne and 5-year-old Lila, lent a hand with the sewing. Her 12-year-old son, Thomas, wrote thank-you notes.
On Monday, she began to work through her stash of fabric to create a colorful array of masks—flowered, geometric and solid colored. By 2:30 a.m., she had created 20 masks.
“It feels so good to be able to do something,” she said.
In Spring Lake, a grandmother, dad and daughter created a three-generation home workshop to produce 250 face masks for health care workers.
Chris Chalupa, who sews costumes for theater and historical reenactments, came up with the plan after he learned about the shortage from a friend who is a nurse in Ohio.
His mother, Karen, cut and pinned the fabric and elastic. Chris sewed the pieces together, and his 11-year-old daughter, Zozzy, unpinned them and turned them inside out.
Karen pinned the pleats in place. Chris did a bit more sewing and Zozzy removed the pins.
They spent $200 on the masks, buying sale fabrics to make their money stretch as far as possible.
History buffs, Chalupa and his mother talked about the World War II era, when those on the home front knit and sewed for the troops.
“It just felt like a way to give back,” he said. “If other people are putting their health on the line, it was a nice opportunity for us to support them.”
Looking for supplies
Hofman drove up to the donation site at the Spectrum Health Integrated Care Campus on the East Beltline with boxes containing 400 disposable gloves.
She bought the gloves for cleaning at her home and Mathnasium of Kentwood, a business she and her husband own.
“It was not a lot, but I wanted to do what I could to help,” she said.
“The care providers—I can’t imagine what they are going through,” she said. “They are doing all they can to help the people who are getting sick. I think any little bit can help.”
When Randy Cleves, senior director of public relations for the Grand Rapids Griffins, learned about the shortage of equipment for health care staff, it struck home.
His sister is a nurse in Cincinnati. And the Griffins partner with Spectrum Health on events.
“Health care workers have a special place in my heart,” he said.
He asked the Griffins trainer if they had items to donate. On Tuesday, Cleves delivered dentist masks, boxes of gloves and bottles of hand sanitizer.
“If it helps at all, we are happy to be a part of it,” he said.
“I think all of us are affected by this. If it’s not you, it’s going to be someone you know, somebody you love or somebody who works in a hospital.”
Next step for the masks
Spectrum Health is accepting the masks created by local crafters to “help the system prepare for the days and weeks ahead,” Chartier said.
The donated, reusable masks will be inspected and laundered before being sent to the Spectrum Health distribution center.
“Ideally, these masks will never need to be used within our clinical spaces,” she said. “They may be deployed for visitors and non-clinical team members.”
The supply chain team will continue to look for sources of disposable masks to use in clinical areas—where care providers treat patients.
Those interested in making face masks can follow the instructions on this video, she said. As elastic becomes scarce, fabric ties are acceptable, as are expert modifications by sewing aficionados.
Shari Schwanzl, Spectrum Health Grand Rapids vice president and chief nursing officer, marveled at the outpouring of support.
“This community never ceases to amaze me,” she said. “So many are doing so much—providing food and supplies, making masks, sharing support and keeping us in their prayers.
“We are overwhelmed by the kindness of our community.”