Texas Living

One Texas Sewing Group Has Made 9,000 Cloth Face Masks for Frontline Workers

By Alex Macon 5.15.20

Deann Rives grew up among people who look out for each other.

“If there’s ever a benefit or someone in need, the community is going to come together,” says Rives, who has served as a Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent in her hometown of Liberty for more than 21 years. And meeting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the strength of a community that knows how to come together — even while social distancing.

Rives, coordinating with several friends and with the assistance of dozens of other volunteers, has been helping sew and deliver thousands of cloth face masks to people in the most danger of being exposed to the coronavirus, including doctors and nurses, first responders, and other essential workers.

Hearing the Call

The four women at the heart of the project are Rives, seamstresses Rhonda Ewell and Susan Odum, and Angela Dedear, who is a real estate agent in Liberty County. “She was still showing houses and sewing too,” Rives says.

Several of the women had heard about the need for masks at local hospitals — Rives and Ewell both have nurses in their immediate families. Seamstresses were in high demand: While hospital workers, for example, rely on higher-grade personal protective equipment, a homemade cloth mask can be placed over a medical mask to prolong its use.

Rives recognized how many calls the seamstresses were getting and knew she could do something. “You go where you’re needed,” Rives says. “I didn’t do it for credit. I just said, ‘Let me help.’ ”

Getting to Work

They got to work washing and cutting the material, then sewing masks and headbands. Rives, who continued to work full time with her Texas Farm Bureau Insurance policyholders, organized efforts from her house. She washed and cut cloth and solicited donations of material. When they were short on elastic, they started ripping up T-shirts that were donated.

Masks went to hospitals, grocery stores, nursing homes, and prisons. She paid out of pocket for long-distance shipments, at first going all over the state and then as far as New York and California.

A local baker, April Koen-Spurlock, helped with deliveries and finding seamstresses. Rives also counted on her daughter, Kennedy, a Texas A&M graduate who is studying for a master’s degree in agricultural and consumer resources as well as working four days a week at the Chambers County Farm Bureau office.

Creating a Movement

Dozens of volunteers signed on, coordinating over the phone and through a Facebook group, “Sew Strong — Liberty County Covering the Front Lines.” Quilting groups, who could no longer meet at their local churches, started sewing cloth face masks at home.

“At one time, we probably had 25 sewing machines going,” all in different houses, Rives says.

Rives credits the heroes fighting the virus on the front line. But her example also shows how, in a crisis, anyone can become a hero.

To date, the group, who are calling themselves Covering the Frontline Fighters, have made more than 9,000 masks — and they’re not stopping any time soon. “It’s not something one single person can do,” Rives says. “It took a huge amount of volunteers and an outpouring of donations from our community.”

Find out how you can help first responders during this time, and how our community is here for you.

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