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‘Masks for Humanity,’ Formerly ‘Bristow Super Sewers!,’ Donates Thousands of Masks to Medical Workers

| April 20, 2020 | 0 Comments | Community

Masks for Humanity organizer Laura Cowell wears one of the sowers homemade masks.

A small group of Western Prince William residents looking to be of service during the COVID-19 crisis has quickly grown into a powerhouse network of Northern Virginia volunteers, making and distributing thousands of homemade masks to medical professionals.

First calling themselves ‘Bristow Super Sewers!’ organizers Laura Cowell, Marylin Karp, Mindy Diepenbrock, Suzanne Nadeua, and Pat Widener wanted to do something to help those on “the front lines,” fighting to save those infected with COVID-19.

Their notoriety grew, and after enlisting more than 200 volunteers from all over Prince William, Fairfax, Loundon and Fauquier counties, they now call themselves ‘Masks for Humanity’ with the Twitter handle @Sew4Humanity.

Since the virus affects nations around the globe, virus protecting N95 respirators are in short supply, often leaving medical professionals to make due with cloth masks. Medical workers ought to change their masks frequently, making it difficult for them to have enough masks even when they are not medical grade.

That is where community volunteers come in. The people of Masks for Humanity sew face masks to donate to essential workers on the “front line” nurses, doctors, first responders those in hospitals and nursing homes.

To date they have made more than 3,000 masks, helped 30 plus medical facilities and donated to more than 200 independent health care workers in the community. They have donated to pediatric, adult and geriatric medical facilities. Recently they donated 175 masks to Canterbury Rehab in Richmond.

“We are making a difference every day with every mask we make and donate,” Cowell said.

The women began Bristow Super Sewers! in late March. They were already very active in the Western Prince William community and belong to a bigger network of like-minded individuals. When a need arose, it was easy to mobilize many friends and community activists.

Hearing that a bigger group in Maryland was making their own masks, they thought it was very doable. “That is how grass roots we are around here,” Cowell said.


Soon, the Bristow Super Sewers! were more than a dozen strong, but not everyone had sewing machines or even knew how to sew. Not a problem. They soon realized there are various steps to making masks. They needed people to raise money, buy fabric and elastic, wash, iron and cut fabric, construct the kits, sew the masks, collect the masks and deliver them to medical centers. The division of labor allowed people work faster, and everyone could contribute.

When the Super Sewers began their endeavor it was easy to go to JoAnn’s Fabric and purchase everything they needed. But it has become more difficult to get fabric or shop in brick and mortar stores, so they went online, accepted donations of materials and money to purchase materials.

When elastic was in short supply they got creative, instead using hair ties or croquet straps created by Pat Widener and the Haymarket Quilters.

And while at first the volunteers spent hundreds of their own money, they now appreciate the generous donations through their Facebook fundraising page or their PayPal funding page. The result is helping many more people in the medical profession who work tirelessly while exposing themselves to COVID-19 patients.

Growing their organization has allowed them to accept donations of homemade masks made by individuals and smaller groups. Those volunteers appreciate working within their established system.

Every day, Cowell is blown away by how they’ve grown. She recently picked up 40 homemade masks from a volunteer in Fairfax, who then accepted 40 kits to make more. And another donation of 50 masks from Loudoun county.

She said they are working constantly and it feels as though they began six months ago, not one. “It’s shocking to me that we’ve done so much in such a little time.”

She credits Karp for reaching out to other groups and organize the large-scale effort. “She’s been instrumental in organizing and is the go to for any logistical items we need help with. She’s a champion among us.”

Cowell is happy they have been able to come together in a time of crisis and make a difference in the community they call home. “People just want to help,” said Cowell. “We are so thankful.”

Any medical professional or facility in need of a donation can reach them by filling out this form.

Donations and volunteers are welcome!

Photos were submitted by Laura Cowell. 

© 2020, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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