Over the years, Houston has become known for being a place where its citizens stand together and rally around each other in hard times, and that is currently in full display with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe. People all across the city, and even the country, have been doing whatever they can to help their neighbors these past few weeks, including three members of the Houston Dash community who have joined the long list of people offering their help to those in need.
Houston Dash season ticket member Helen Stewart, BBVA Stadium staffer Lana Ramirez, and Dash team trainer Frances Gilbert have spent the past couple of weeks making masks, and even some bonnets, that have been donated to healthcare professionals on the front lines, BBVA Stadium staff, and the Dash players and coaching staff, as well as fulfilling personal requests from friends and family.
For Stewart, it all started after hearing about other people around the country sewing protective equipment, and discovering a Facebook group called “Create Face Mask Covers Houston” where people can put requests for items and she learned of a need for both masks and surgical bonnets, which she now makes out of leftover Dash “Y’all Means All” giveaway t-shirts donated by the Club to aid her efforts.
“I have been making two different types of masks along with the bonnets,” Stewart explained. “One is the kind most people have seen with the pleats, where one layer is made out of something like an old bedsheet and the other layer will be a piece of a t-shirt with a pocket in the middle where another kind of air filter can go, such as a folded up paper towel or Kleenex. Then, that can be thrown away at the end of the day so the mask can be washed and reused. The other kind I’ve been making are the ones shaped like a half-circle that cover the lower portion of your face, and those are either for any healthcare provider who wears them over a surgical mask or an N-95 mask to extend the life of it, or for people who the typical square mask won’t fit on their face.”
Similarly, Ramirez had seen the national news headlines, and then discovered “Sewing Bee for America” on Facebook, which provided her with a database of requests from healthcare professionals, and allowed her to create a mask she had learned to make through an Instagram account.
“I was already part of a bunch of different crafting groups on Facebook, but I saw one where a lady was collecting donation requests from healthcare professionals to donate masks, so I joined that group too,” Ramirez said. “The woman had made excel spreadsheets with all the different requests she had, so it was easy to see where I could help. I needed to learn how to make a mask though, so I followed a step-by-step YouTube video I had originally seen on Instagram for a mask that includes a flap in the back where a filter can be placed, and a metal strip across the top, where I have used a pipe cleaner to help the mask bend around the bridge of the person’s nose. They are still large enough to cover an N-95 mask, but they can also be used on their own as well, and I think the nose piece adds a bit more than a basic mask.”
Gilbert, who is employed by Memorial Hermann and works with the Dash on a daily basis through the Club’s partnership with the hospital, was told that the hospital would not be accepting homemade masks because of their stock of medical-grade personal protective equipment, so she started making masks for requests from family members instead. However, a phone call with the Dash team doctor quickly made her add her players and colleagues to the list of those to receive masks as well.
“My family reached out and asked if I would be willing to make some masks for them, so of course I said yes, and the next day I was on a call with the team doctor and she said the CDC recommended wearing a mask when you can’t maintain the proper social distancing,” Gilbert stated. “Since I was making quite a few masks for family, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to make a few more for the players and staff, just to make sure they had what they needed and wouldn’t be taking away masks that healthcare providers need. It was a good opportunity for me to jump in and do something that would help the community and keep people from taking essential masks from healthcare providers.”
The hours spent working on the equipment have helped the women become extremely efficient in their creation process, and the three have combined to create nearly 250 pieces of personal protection equipment to date. Their products have been donated to local healthcare providers and first responders, as well as some in Lubbock and Katy, plus family, friends, and coworkers, who have all been extremely appreciative of the support and the occasional comedic relief that the donation sometimes provides.
“They are happy to have the items, but sometimes they add a bit of humor to their day as well,” Stewart said. “It’s funny to see what kind of fabric people use to make the equipment. There are a lot of cartoon characters and a lot of prints that were probably originally intended for children. In fact, some of the masks I sent to a fire station in Katy came from an Elvis Presley print that has Elvis on a surfboard, so that was fun. Overall though, the reception has been really good.”
“Everyone is super appreciative,” Ramirez echoed. “I’ve been trying to add in some extra touches to each of my shipments too, such as adding coffee filters into the batch, which can be used as a filter in the back of the mask, so hopefully they help a little bit too.”
“The players have been really responsive to it,” Gilbert stated. “They seem really appreciative and it’s something that I think helps them feel more comfortable when they go out, like to the grocery store, especially after the recommendation to wear masks when out and about. I wore one yesterday, and it made me feel more comfortable being in tighter spaces where you can’t really control the people around you. The players are mostly the ones who have gotten them, but I have sent some to family as well that have underlying health conditions, so they are really grateful to have that extra sense of security as well.”
As a whole, the trio has done wonders in the community effort to help those most in need, but Stewart believes the process of making the masks and bonnets for others has just as much to do with providing a form of protection as it does letting those fighting the virus on the front lines know that they aren’t alone, but stand with an entire community at their backs ready to help however they can.
“I think partially people are grateful to have protective equipment, but they are also grateful to be getting feedback from the community that shows we know what they’re doing and know it is valuable, because they are going through hell right now,” Stewart explained. “Also, knowing our limitations in how much we can truly help, if I’m up until 11 at night sewing masks because it means that someone is more likely to go home tomorrow, I am happy to do it.”