In April, the threat of the Covid-19 virus first loomed, and companies, churches, and communities shut down to slow the spread of the virus. We recognized the need for masks and played our part in meeting this demand. Sean, our managing director, turned to a former employee and active member of the community, Sarah Pickerill, to spearhead our efforts.
Sarah is a member of the City Sewing Room group in St. Louis and heard about the Greater St. Louis Million Mask Drive, an organization created to provide non-surgical masks to healthcare workers, through her connections at the community center. She was already assisting the group to begin making donations for the drive, but she was more than willing to organize 1904labs’ involvement. When asked what inspired her to lead this project, she answered sincerely, “There was a need for the masks in the community, and sewing is a skill I have that I could share.”
Beginning the process
Sarah created sewing kits to make the sewing process simple for volunteers to become involved. The kits included pre-cut fabric, a needle, thread, scissors, and other basic sewing tools. Each volunteer received a sewing machine and a kit. In addition, Sarah offered a variety of assistance like helping volunteers set up their machines or giving them personal sewing lessons. She taught 1904lab members like Andrew Ulrich, full stack developer, and Erica Kaiser, full stack developer, how to sew through video chats.
Like Sarah, Andrew and Erica were inspired to participate in the mask sewing initiative to meet the needs of their community. They were also excited to learn a new skill. For Andrew, it was a family bonding experience. After Sarah’s tutelage, he taught his wife and kids what he learned. Together, their initial batch consisted of 30 completed masks. “It was a lot of fun to pick up that skill, and I could definitely see the appeal. I was able to use that skill for my daughter. She needed a pirates’ eye patch for a school event, so I sewed one for her.”
For Erica, sewing became a new passion to add to her many crafty interests. “It was really rewarding to be able to give back to the community and to help people out. I give to others with my personal projects too, and I always enjoy it. It was also rewarding learning how to sew. I want to learn how to make my own clothes now!”
While the project was rewarding and fun, it was not lacking in trials. It was challenging to keep up with the demand for masks. The Million Masks Drive continuously requested more donations, and the sense of urgency could be stressful at times.
The most difficult part for Sarah was the burnout; it became repetitive gathering the items together for the kits. She was the sole person cutting the materials for the masks and assembling the packages. “We were all just trying to do the best we could.”
There were learning curves for the other members, too. Erica’s sewing machine flashed error signs a few times, but she was able to solve the problems herself. Andrew felt it was challenging to adjust to a new process when the pattern of the masks was changed midway through the project. When asked what Erica’s least favorite part of the project was, her reply was ambitious: “I felt like I didn’t have enough time to complete as many masks as I wanted. I wish I had more time.”
Results of the project
The 1904labs team involved in the mask sewing initiative made nearly 500 masks and donated them to the Greater St. Louis Million Masks Drive and other places like the Washington University School of Medicine and Saint Luke’s Hospital. “Big thanks to everyone in the labs for their help. I’m just really impressed with everyone’s ability to jump in with no experience and their ability to take on the challenge and see it through to the end,” said Sarah.
What you can do
Mask donations are still needed in many communities, particularly at nursing and other non-hospital care facilities.
To anyone inspired to start a donation endeavor like the mask sewing initiative, Sarah advises to begin with a good plan, involve like-minded people, and distribute the work-load. “Don’t do it all yourself! Try to find balance between what you’re trying to accomplish and your normal life. The burnout is very real.”
If the endeavor is a sewing project, Andrew advises having a sewing expert video chat if in-person meetings aren’t an option.