Friday, September 11, 2020

LDH Staff Spotlight: Masking all y'all

Kelly Smith at her sewing machine

By MINDY FACIANE | Public Information Officer, LDH Bureau of Media and Communications 

Kelly Smith spends her days working as a transition coordinator with the Office of Behavioral Health.

In her off hours, she’s a maestro of masks.

Since March, she has sewn and donated nearly 4,700 handmade cloth masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“I like sewing, and at least I’m doing something kind of useful,” Smith said.

Kelly Smith with two of her masks

That’s an understatement.

When the pandemic broke out in Louisiana in early March, the speed of the virus’s spread created a shortage of critical personal protective equipment. First responders, hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare providers found themselves rationing, improvising or even reusing the PPE they had on hand, sometimes for days or even weeks

With supplies dwindling, hospitals began turning to commercial retailers and even made appeals to the public to make and donate cloth masks.

Soon, instructional videos and guides were on the internet showing how to make masks at home. One such video caught Smith’s attention.

“This video came up on Facebook, and I looked at it and went, ‘Oh, wow, that is so easy. I can do that,’” Smith said.

She set up her sewing machine and got to work. Her sister, Alyssa Hayes, pitched in by cutting fabric and elastic, handling shipping and maintaining the caffeine supply.

A river of handmade masks began streaming its way from Smith’s home to hospitals, the Louisiana National Guard, military deployments and other places in need.

As Smith sewed, the number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise at an alarming pace. Governor Edwards issued a Stay at Home order on March 22 aimed at flattening the curve. Although cases dropped off initially, a second wave in July prompted the Governor to issue a statewide mask mandate.

With the mandate in place, the need for face masks exploded.

Kelly Smith, right, with sister Alyssa Hayes

“I started off making masks for hospitals and stuff like that, but then pretty much everybody needed them,” Smith said. “People were selling masks on Facebook for $25 apiece. It takes a dollar of materials. It takes 15 minutes per mask. It’s not worth $25 for everybody to do that.”

Masks continued to flow from Smith’s sewing machine to hospitals and others in need. She also set out a big bin in front of her house, which she filled with masks free for the taking for anyone in need.

“People from different states started asking for masks, too,” Smith said.

Smith settled into a routine: Work from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.; sew until around 10:30 p.m.; sleep until 6:30 a.m. the next day; and resume sewing until time to leave for work.

As of September 3, Smith has sewn 4,690 masks — and she’s still going strong.

Her dedication has not gone unnoticed. She said a lot of friends and complete strangers have donated bags of fabric, and some have even donated money toward buying sewing supplies.

“I’ve kept track of everything in a spreadsheet. I didn’t want to profit off anything,” she said.

All she wants is to keep on sewing, masking as many people as she can.

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