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Volunteers repair 20,000 masks in one weekend for Memphis hospital


Ayman alakhras | Shutterstock

Cerith Gardiner - published on 04/12/20

When dry rot ruined much-needed masks, two women saved the day.

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Many countries have been tackling the problem of providing medical professionals with suitable protective wear to battle COVID-19. So when one Memphis hospital came across dozens of masks in storage, you can only imagine the horror when they realized that the elastics on the masks had been damaged due to dry rot.

Luckily, mom-of-three and engineer Stephanie Lepone and her friend Ginna Rauls found out about the situation and offered to lend a hand. In fact, when the pandemic started, Lepone knew she wanted to use her sewing talents to make masks as a personal contribution to the cause. Having already made masks for a pediatrician’s office, she approached a director of Baptist Memorial Health to see if they needed any of her hand-stitched creations.

The director told Lepone of the dry rot dilemma, explaining how the masks had been in storage for years after previous pandemic scares. So Lepone contacted her sewing buddy Rauls and the pair brought together an impressive group of friends and church members to organize a weekend of sewing. Not all of the 410-strong team knew how to sew, so Lepone posted tutorials on YouTube for the willing novices to learn.

Then Lepone contacted the hospital and asked them to deliver all the boxes to her home. While she initially thought she could replace the straps of 4,000 masks, she told the hospital the team would try to get the lot done, to which they replied: “‘What? No,’ they couldn’t believe it,” Lepone told CNN.

The hospital sent all the boxes and an impressive 16,000 yards of elastic. One attorney spent the entire night cutting the pieces of elastic into 11-inch pieces.. “It was a true community effort and I was floored by how the word got out and how many people wanted to help,” Lepone shared.

The volunteers donned protective masks and gloves themselves to avoid any contamination and spent the weekend stitching. By Monday Lepone had a total of 20,000 repaired masks stacked up in her home. The remaining masks she hoped to do later in the week, with the help of her volunteers.

The members of staff at the hospital, and all the patients, will be able to have a little more security thanks to the huge efforts of two women and their desire to help others.


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