MDS Lancaster churns out thousands of masks

Apr 20, 2020 by and

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The Mennonite Disaster Service unit in Lancaster, Pa., is coordinating volunteers making coronavirus protection masks at a rate of 21,000 every three days.

By April 13 they had made 55,000.

The effort — which evolved quickly during the week before Easter — takes place while safely practicing social distancing.

According to unit board member Manny Flaud, it has become a finely tuned network of phone answers, fabric cutters, seamstresses, drivers and distributors.

First, the unit set up a “command center” where six volunteers answer a phone hotline. They all work in separate rooms in a cabinet shop that was forced to close because of COVID-19.

Next, the unit connected with the owner of another store forced to close — a fabric seller — that was becoming overwhelmed by requests for fabric to make masks, mostly for first responders such as nurses.

Now 20 volunteer fabric cutters are measuring fabric and creating “kits” with the pieces, then handing them off to volunteer seamstresses — all from a safe distance. One kit contains materials to make 50 masks.

Drivers pick up the masks and take them to a distribution center, from which the finished masks are delivered to nursing homes, daycare centers, hospitals, prisons and individual families.

Based on the number of kits distributed in early April, Flaud estimated the volunteers were making masks at a rate of 21,000 every three days.

“I think it’s a good example of what a unit should be doing for the local community,” said Flaud, who has also been serving as a mentor for other MDS units to help them get their own mask-making operations started.

For MDS executive director Kevin King, it adds up to a way for the Lancaster unit “to harness the compassion and energy of local volunteers, who are now helping to meet the demand in their own community.”

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