With PPE in high-demand, volunteers sew face masks for hospital visitors, non-COVID-19 patients


O’FALLON, Ill. – Amid ever-mounting concerns about shortages of medical equipment, we have discovered a growing army of people who are doing something about it.

Volunteers are making a difference, one surgical mask at a time.

St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in O’Fallon, Illinois is holding collection drives for hand-sewn surgical masks. The initial response has been so great, the hospital is adding more collection days next week.

Dianne Isbell of the St. Louis Fashion Fund is a noted hat-maker turned mask-maker. Her kitchen is now full of fabric, a sewing machine, and dozens of finished masks, with more rolling off her one-woman-assembly line every day.

More than 500 have already been donated, with Scott Credit Union branches stepping up to hold collection drives. Fifty-five of those masks have come from the hands of Dianne Isbell.

“I have all kinds of different patterns. You might as well be cheerful while you’re wearing this. It might start somebody into feeling better,” she said.

To be clear, these hand-sewn masks are not for hospital clinicians but they will keep non-COVID-19 patients and the very limited number of visitors allowed at hospitals from using what is now a precious resource: the dwindling supply of medically certified masks.

“What this will be used for is for visitors and anybody who comes into our facility,” said St. Elizabeth’s Foundation Director David Garris. “What that will do is it will free up those manufactured surgical masks for those people who put themselves in high-risk situations, such as our caregivers, our 1-to-1 patient caregivers… it’s a different type of giving. So, it’s really amazing to see.”

After posting about the effort on Facebook, Isbell has gotten more than 400 requests, mostly from hospitals.

“I’ve even had a call from a nurse in San Jose, California…everyone needs these. I just urge everyone if you have extra fabric, just do it,” she said. “That’s the kind of thing that makes me feel good and gives me the goose-pimples and says, you know, you’re doing the right thing.”

Do not drop off masks at the hospital. There will be collection events next week, April 1 from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Scott Credit Union branch at 2020 N. Belt E. in Belleville; April 1 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Fairview Heights branch at 555 Lincoln Highway; April 2, at the O’Fallon, IL, branch at 712 W. Highway 50.

Here is a link to instructions for making the masks.

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