By Clairissa Cooper
The hum of the sewing machine resonates in the background as Dida Finch recounts the story of hitting a milestone – 9,000 handmade face masks. Multitasking, after all, is crucial to keep up with orders that are pouring in faster than her group can keep up.
The group is called the Harvest Mask Makers, named after a master-planned community in the Northlake and Argyle part of Denton County. Dida, a resident of Harvest, speaks with a calm urgency when discussing the needs of first responders and health care workers.
“There is a great need for reusable masks during [the COVID-19 pandemic],” said Dida.
It started March 22 when Finch’s daughter Adair, who works in the operating room of a Missouri hospital, called her mom to say their group would likely run out of masks in a few days. It was a call to action that Dida could not ignore. And one she could not do alone.
“I’ve never made masks before, but I thought, ‘Ok, let me try and figure out how to make a mask!’” said Dida.
Dida made phone calls and sought the advice of hospitals, doctors, and nurse practitioners. She followed CDC-recommended guidelines and ended up with a pattern for the masks that included two layers of 100% cotton with one side open for an individual to place an additional filtration layer.
That’s when Dida turned to her neighbors for help on the community Facebook page. Fellow neighbor Katrina Metcalf reached out and the two women coordinated efforts to create the Harvest Mask Makers Facebook group, track orders, create sewing kits, collect donations, and communicate to the now hundreds of volunteers.
Dida and Katrina create kits with pre-cut fabric and all that is needed to sew masks and place them in bins on their front porches for volunteers to take, make, and return the finished product ready to be donated to the next group in need.
The group grew quickly as word got out with facilities requesting masks and volunteers wanting to help. From 3,000 masks on April 7 to 7,932 masks on April 30, the Harvest Mask Makers notched 9,018 as of publication.
“We’ve ran out of elastic a few times and have resorted to using hair bands, hair bows, and headbands. It’s been crazy and it’s gotten a little crazier lately,” said Dida, who has personally made over 3,000 masks. “I worked one day from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. to make sure an order of 500 masks made it to those who needed it.”
A myriad of groups have benefited from the community generosity.
“Our priorities have been medical facilities, police stations, and nursing homes,” said Katrina. “So many are using the masks – nurses, receptionists, any healthcare office workers that come in contact with the public.”
Recipients include police departments in Denton, Argyle, Dallas, Flower Mound, Irving, and Lewisville, various hospitals, Meals on Wheels programs, rehabilitation facilities, and nursing homes, including the Denton State Supported Living Center, which has been especially ravaged by COVID-19.
Hundreds are Helping
Satellite groups around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex have branched out with volunteers sewing masks in Flower Mound, Coppell, and Carrollton. And it’s a good thing because “we are getting calls from Chicago, California, everywhere,” said Dida.
Sister missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who are unable to go out and serve around their communities as they normally would because of the stay-at-home orders, are spending their time sewing masks in their apartments.
“It’s so great to use our time in helping other people and to see the joy that we can bring them,” said Sister Erynn Swinson from St. George, Utah, serving in the Church of Jesus Christ Denton Stake. “We’ve loved hearing about the community coming together.”
Pam Moore, an administrator for the Days for Girls organization in Highland Village, temporarily converted her program from making feminine hygiene for girls and women in third-world countries to sewing masks. Her group has made over 1,500 masks and donated to oncology centers, nursing homes, and first responders.
“This has really brought everyone together. The virus knows no bounds and the desire to serve doesn’t either,” said Katrina, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ Denton Stake. “People from all walks of life, all around [the DFW metroplex] are stepping up and coming together to help those in need.”
“I didn’t really know my neighbors before all of this,” said Dida. “We moved here in November and are still fairly new. Now, after all this, I feel like this community is a big family. We just pick up what’s needed and take care of each other.”
The sense of community is evident in the notes of encouragement Dida posts on the group’s page.
“I’m just speechless! What an amazing giving Village we have built,” posted Dida. “I think of the people that we are helping daily. You all are truly amazing. We are stronger together and we have stood up to make a difference for others in this time.
“By the way, I have elastic!”.
Recipients’ messages of gratitude are shared with the group.
“Thank you! Thank you! These masks … have provided such a morale boost to all the employees! You have no idea how much these masks mean to everyone,” said one worker at a senior care facility in Arlington.
Dida even received a signed letter from Ross Perot, Jr. thanking them “for taking the lead and for showing others that everyone can play a part and make a difference during this crisis. The Harvest Mask Makers are a great example of how we are all in this together.”
Teens Spend Time Serving
Dida bought her daughter, Reigha, 16, a sewing machine when the mask-making group started and taught her how to sew. Bria now sews 30-40 masks a day and is one of many teenagers who are spending their days out of school serving.
Katie Dooley, 17, is part of the Class of 2020 graduating high school seniors who missed out on a traditional prom, graduation ceremony, and end-of-year events. Instead of feeling down about her circumstances, she decided to channel her energy into serving. Katie’s mother is an OBGYN physician in Denton so sewing masks for her and others was a cause close to her heart.
“Sewing helps with boredom from not having school,” said Katie, a senior from Denton High School and member of the Church of Jesus Christ. “It’s nice to know you’re helping someone and are part of something bigger that will mean a lot to them.”
“It’s been nice to be busy when you’re stuck at home and not focused on yourself,” said Katrina. This has been an outlet to feel like you’re doing sometime rather than wondering what to do, which helps mentally. I feel I benefit as much from this service as those who get the masks.”
“God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs,” said Katrina, referencing Spencer W. Kimball, a former president of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Those looking to volunteer as a donor, sewer, fabric cutter, or runner can contact Dida Finch directly on Facebook or at [email protected].
Other service projects benefiting COVID-19 related needs can be found at JustServe.org.
Dida’s How to Make a Mask Video
Mask Sewing Pattern