On the home front: Volunteers supply needed masks, sanitizer

Mike Still • Mar 27, 2020 at 7:00 PM

BIG STONE GAP — As national news outlets report on shortages of protective gear for health care workers across all 50 states, volunteers across Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee keep finding ways to help make those supplies.

In Virginia, although Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Wednesday that the state had gotten its first shipment of protective gear from the federal government, Lylah Fleming and Ryan Collins each are responding to pleas from local health care workers and first responders for protective masks.

Fleming, 10 and a student at Union Middle School, found herself bored from what started as a long spring break that turned into stay-at-home classes for the rest of the semester.

“I can hand-sew, but now I can use a sewing machine,” Fleming said.

After watching a YouTube video and getting a bit of extra instruction from her mother, Myranda, Lylah’s neighbor also gave her a sewing machine to use. She has completed 55 masks from layers of washed flannel and non-woven fused material center layers. Some went to workers at nearby Heritage Hall Nursing Home in Big Stone Gap, Myranda Fleming said, while others went to friends suffering from compromised immune systems. The rest went to Lylah’s pediatrician.

“I made my doctor’s office masks with kid-friendly designs,” Lylah said. “I’m making some for the veterinarians in Pound and Wise, and they’ll have puppy paws on them.”

“She’s an old soul,” Myranda Fleming said. “She likes to cook and sew. Friday’s her birthday. What a way to spend a birthday, in quarantine.”

Lylah said the masks are provided free to whoever needs them, although she is accepting donations from anyone wanting to help with materials for more masks. For more information, email Myranda Fleming at [email protected]

Ryan Collins, a senior at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, found the volunteer effort a family affair. Collins started making masks for first responders and for workers at Heritage Hall Wise Nursing home near the college. His father, Bob, a science faculty member, also took to heart a lesson from his father, a former Texas state trooper.

“In the event of an emergency, we all depend on the fact that law enforcement and emergency services will put their well-being before ours,” Bob Collins said.

Bob Collins looked around his lab at the college’s Sandridge Science Center and found that all the ingredients for hand sanitizer were there in the lab.

After checking that the lab stocks met World Health Organization guidelines, he and some volunteers turned them into 32 200-milliliter bottles of sanitizer that can be used to refill small personal sanitizer bottles. The Collinses and volunteers got their stock to the Wise Police Department and Fire Department, the Wise County Sheriff’s Office and to troopers at the Virginia State Police Office in Wise.

Leslie Kidd, wife of Emmaus Baptist Church pastor Dr. Phil Kidd, was part of a production line Thursday at the church’s fellowship hall as 10 church volunteers practiced a combination of social distancing and mass production of protective masks.

“We’ve got requests for 36,000 masks, including area hospitals and facilities across Virginia and in Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia.” Kidd said. “We’re focusing on the Tri-Cities first.”

Kidd said the mask effort started as church members who work at area hospitals talked about the shortage of protective gear for nurses, doctors and workers.

Kidd said she and two other congregation members were able to jump-start the church’s effort from their own stocks of fabrics, and she said JoAnne’s Fabrics has also helped with donations from their stocks. Some volunteers pre-wash the fabric before assembly, and each mask is sterilized by steam press before being bagged with two tags — one from the church and one with washing and sterilization instructions.

“We mark them as free of charge and not for resale because we don’t want people asking for them and then trying to make a profit,” Kidd said. Anyone wanting to make donations so the church can make more masks can visit the church’s website, emmausofkingsport.com

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