Sew There: Southern Churches Aid Front-Line Workers

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As the coronavirus pandemic struck the nation over the winter and spring, Americans scrambled: Grocery store shelves were emptied of toilet paper. Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes suddenly sold at a premium. Many Americans abided by city and state rules telling them to stay inside as much as possible.

But hospital employees and other essential workers who couldn’t shelter indoors struggled to find even the simplest of protective gear: masks.

In central Tennessee, Julie Meier sprang into action. A member of LifePoint Church in the city of Smyrna, she recruited volunteers — mostly women — to sew handmade masks at home while socially distanced from each other. Sew Much More, as the project is dubbed, has so far produced more than 2,000 masks for essential workers around the city. It has also shipped masks to Haiti, Thailand, and Brazil, where, as in the United States, the spread of the virus is getting worse by the day.

"Whatever you do to the least of my people, you do unto me."

Meier, 43, said recently, quoting from the Bible. That passage has been at the core of the volunteer sewing group she leads with dozens of church and community members.

Across the nation, everyday Americans have met the challenges of the coronavirus with their time and generosity. LifePoint’s Sew Much More is one of several church groups nationwide that have formed or pivoted to produce free masks to battle the novel disease that spreads through air droplets.

“We feel like we’re giving back to people who are there taking care of our community, whether it’s medical workers or police,” said Meier, a mother of three whose kids and husband have also joined in the effort.

As parts of the U.S. continue to reopen for business while others hit “pause” and revisit restrictions, protective gear is now easier to come by. Still, Sew Much More has continued, putting out its most recent call for volunteers and masks two weeks ago. Currently, about 85 people have chipped in their time since the mask effort began.

In its original form, the project predates the pandemic. Sew Much More launched 13 years ago and typically meets twice a year to sew dresses and shorts that members deliver to kids during mission trips to developing countries. These days, its sights have also turned local.

“People have been so giving,” said Meier, who has sewn at least 200 masks herself. “They’re donating cloth, filters, sewing needles — everything you need to make a mask that looks good and prevents disease from spreading. It takes a lot of hands and feet of Jesus to make this happen.”

Her church isn’t alone.

Some Angels Wear Masks

Just under four hours away in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Mask Angels of St. George Catholic Church have put together thousands of masks since launching in mid-April. Unlike the ministry at LifePoint, this one was tailor-made in response to the pandemic.

Cases had been surging in Louisiana, in particular in the state’s largest cities, New Orleans and Baton Rouge. As elsewhere, doctors and nurses had to use medical-grade respirators and factory-produced masks, but non-medical staff needed their own supplies, too.

“One of our church members had a mother who used to work at the hospital, so she reached out on a whim to ask if there was a need for masks,” said Kristel Neupert, who works as the parish’s society responsibility coordinator. “It turns out, the need was quite big,” added Neupert, who has overseen social responsibility projects for the church for nine years.

Within weeks of the start of Mask Angels, there was a long list of volunteers, each signed up for their own part of the job: donating cloth or filters, sewing, collecting the final product, and delivery, to name a few of the assignments.

“I’m not a sewer,” said Neupert, 44, “so I prepared, washed, and cut materials, and I did delivery. At first, some materials, like elastic, were hard to find, so we also went searching for those.”

When elastic couldn’t be found, church members decided to use strips of unused T-shirts that the parish received from the Baton Rouge Cotillion, which had ordered shirts for its now-canceled annual dances. 

Within weeks in April, the Mask Angels had sewn 3,000 masks. As of today, the group has made more than 8,000. The recipients have included the Louisiana State Police, rehabilitation centers, long-term care facilities, and local hospitals. The prints have covered everything from floral designs to Harry Potter to sports themes. 

“This is exactly what our faith is about: helping the community and working together,” said Neupert. “However the community needs you and when it needs you, you have to show up."

“A lot of people have been stuck at home or out of work," she added. "This gives people a sense of purpose and even helps them in a stressful time, by knowing they are out there making a difference.”

Tags: Faith and Social Justice, Navigating the Pandemic, Overcoming Adversity

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Written By

JD Turner

JD Turner is a writer and puppy parent based in Los Angeles. See Full Bio

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