Sanpete seamstresses organize to stitch masks for first responders

Staff members at the Sanpete County jail are excited to don the protection of washable cotton face masks, made and delivered by volunteers with “Sewing for Life.”

For a newly organized group of Sanpete County seamstresses, sewing cotton face masks makes everybody in the community feel a little safer.

The group, the Sanpete chapter of “Sewing for Life,” was just formed by organizer Gena Newton to sew and distribute supplemental masks to all the first responders in Sanpete County.

It is important to note, Newton said, that the home-sewn mask are used to preserve and extend the life of the government-approved N95 masks. They are 100 percent cotton washable masks that can be worn over the top of the N95 masks and thereby extend the life of the N95, she said.

The demand for the cotton masks, however, has exploded, even globally, Newton said. A group of about 50 volunteers has already produced about 1000 cotton masks and distributed them to many of the first responders in the Sanpete area.

And the call for more masks is just beginning, Newton said. “Because of the pandemic, there are not enough masks to cover all the people that need them,” she said. “I just delivered a bunch to the Sanpete County jail and they were so grateful and appreciative.”

Newton plans on making sure all of Sanpete County’s EMTs, firemen, policeman and other first responders are covered first. Then after that, Sewing for Life will continue to give masks to nursing homes and then to people on the front lines who work with the public every day. “We’re taking it one step at a time,” she said. “To get Sanpete covered; that’s my goal.”

So far, several local hospitals like Intermountain Health Care and University of Utah Hospital won’t take the masks, she said, but other hospitals from as far away as Hawaii said they would like to order some.

Sewing for Life has also brought people together in a common cause. Not only has the mask-making given people something to do, Newton said, but it helps them feel better about themselves.

It all started when Newton got a call from a co-worker at the Salt Lake Regional Hospital two weeks ago asking if she’d like to form a Sanpete County chapter of a mask-making group called “Sewing for Life.”

Newton, who worked in health care for much of her life, said she loved the idea and she immediately went to a local Facebook page called Sanpete Unity and posted a comment asking for volunteers to sew masks and others to donate fabric. “The response blew up,” Newton said.

Newton now sets up tables at the Ephraim Ball Park to sign up seamstresses and to accept donated materials. She sets the tables far apart and observes proper social distancing, she said.

“Some people sew about 20 masks a week; others do about five,” she said. “Everyone is doing what they can.”

Newton has also turned this project into a family affair; many of her 11 children and even her 76-year-old father help out with packing and distribution of the masks.

The Ephraim mother works as the merchandising manager at Dollar Tree; her family also owns and operates a food truck in the summer. And even though Newton is certainly busy, everyone has a little time to help out, even if they think they can’t, she said.