Are you stuck at home needing something to occupy the time? Do you know how to sew?

Dozens of Pierce County seamstresses are joining in with a nationwide campaign to sew face masks for medical workers, first responders and other essential personnel who are working through the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and they’re looking for more volunteers to join the effort.

The demand for their product keeps growing.

“If I had a 1,000 masks right now I could get rid of them. The need is so great,” says Ronda Sauls, retired home economics teacher.

Sauls began sewing masks nearly three weeks ago after hearing of several ladies who gathered at Emmanuel Baptist Church (before the current stay at home mandate) to sew face masks for medical workers and first responders.

It wasn’t long before Sauls took to social media to recruit more help. The outpouring of support from those donating materials and others who are sewing masks, too, has been overwhelming.

“I got into it and thought I just can’t do this by myself, and it just exploded,” Sauls says.

She got so many offers to help that Sauls began assembling kits for the face masks, with supplies and written instructions for sewing five masks. She placed two donation boxes outside her home, one with mask kits and one for folks to drop off completed masks and donated materials. Last week, at least 40 picked up kits from the box  — 15 were gone in just a few hours one morning.

“We’re doing as little contact as possible. We have a pick up and drop off box,” Sauls says.

This crew won’t be stopped when they encounter a problem either. With a shortage of elastic for the straps, Sauls began making mask ties out of old T-shirt material.

“They’re easier to make and adjustable,” Sauls says.

Sauls has sent the masks to area doctors’ offices, Hospice agencies, firefighters and police officers, funeral homes, cancer centers and home healthcare agencies. One doctor’s office told her they only had six medical masks left.

The pattern is so simple anyone with basic sewing skills can make masks, Sauls says, but most importantly, she asks those who volunteer to pray prayers of protection over those who will be wearing the masks as they sew.

“That’s more important than anything we can do,” Sauls says.

Many locals have found themselves in the same position as Sauls in recent weeks  — stuck at home trying not to worry about elderly loved ones who are vulnerable to the virus, and needing something to occupy their time.

Making masks became the outlet Sauls needed and gave her a way to contribute to the fight against COVID-19, too.

“This has been my therapy, my way to cope,” Sauls said tearfully. “It’s keeping me sane. I wish I could do more!”

The mask making movement has also given mothers an opportunity to teach their children a new skill, too, Sauls says. Some of her former home economics students are passing that knowledge on now.

“This has been the most heartwarming thing,” Sauls says.

Sauls adopted a slogan in an effort to recruit more volunteers – protection not perfection. And, she reminds former students they aren’t being graded on this class assignment. The cause is much more important than a perfect row of stitches.

Sauls isn’t charging for the masks she and her group of volunteers make. She just encourages recipients to pay it forward somehow.

Jif Rodgers, who started the same kind of movement among Emmanuel Baptist Church members, does the same. When people donate cash to her cause, she buys gift cards for medical workers and finds other ways to pay it forward.

Rodgers and a half dozen volunteers sewed 1,000 masks during three work days at the church a few weeks ago (before the current stay at home mandate was imposed). They call themselves “The Mask Force.”

In total, The Mask Force has made nearly 1,600 masks and Rodgers has hand delivered most of those to Baptist Village, the hospital, doctor’s offices and nursing homes. Rodgers mailed out another 125 masks to people in Atlanta, Cordele and South Carolina.

Now, Rodgers is branching out to those who work in food service and other industries still deemed essential. She delivered cow print face masks to Chick Fil-A and is working on orders for Jot Em Down and Dairy Queen.

“(I’m) just trying to do my part,” Rodgers says modestly. “I can’t doctor, I can’t nurse, all I can do is sew for people.”

Misti Cox, another local seamstress, feels the same.

“I’ve been a seamstress for years and I knew my skill set could help make something useful so that’s why I started doing it,” Cox says.

Cox has been taking most of her masks to Memorial Satilla Health.

None of the fabric masks are medical grade, but worn over the N95 medical masks, they can help extend the life of doctors and nurses’ protective equipment during the ongoing supply shortage.

“They’re definitely not meant to be worn solo. It is just fabric. If someone sneezes or coughs on it, it’s going to absorb the nasty stuff, but (worn) in conjunction with N95 masks or face shields (it offers additional protection),” Cox explains. “If they have to keep reusing their N95 masks, it (the fabric mask) protects it from getting nasty.”

Volunteers interested in making masks from the pre-assembled kits Sauls is producing can call 286-3431 or look her up on Facebook. Cox and Rodgers are also posting about their mask making projects on social media.