By: Jen Russon
Earlier this year, Meryl Schwartz looked at crafting as little more than a hobby, until social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis gave the hygienist and instructor at Nova Dental School reason to dust off her sewing machine and begin creating on a large scale.
Using tutorials on YouTube and other instructional guides, Schwartz got the hang of sewing the kind of masks medical professionals wear and has since inspired other residents of Coral Springs to step up and help her produce the coveted masks.
After Schwartz’s Next Door post garnered donations of materials like quarter-inch pieces of elastic, twisty ties, white cotton fabric, and Velcro, she has produced and donated uncountable masks to, as she puts it, “anyone who needs one.”
Schwartz said requests for her handiwork have mostly come from caregivers of the elderly, and people with loved ones working in the frontlines of healthcare.
“I have the deepest respect for healthcare workers and would love to donate the masks directly to hospitals, but I do feel more of a niche when it comes to helping people right here in my own community,” said Schwartz.
She added each of her masks must be washed in hot water, hung in the sunshine to dry and ironed, per her research she did before embarking on this project.
She knows that hand-made masks like hers are not specifically designed to block the spread of COVID-19; however, she believes they do provide a barrier to halt the spread of germs that increase a person’s vulnerability.
So far, her colorful masks have been sought out by Coral Springs residents, like Marge Barilotti of Forest Hills, who asked on behalf of a son-in-law working as an EMT.
Another was Jonelle Falkowitz of Country Estates, asking for her daughter who is a healthcare worker at Florida Medical Hospital – and for every request like these, there are dozens more from the elderly, who feel especially prone as COVID-19 sweeps through Broward County and most of Florida.
Schwartz, who divides her time between working in Dr. Walter Kulick’s dental office, and teaching dental instrumentation at Nova, said she has been so busy sewing the masks, she broke her sewing machine.
Another resident, Myrna Rosa, stepped up and gave Schwartz her machine. The replacement has been whirring away since Schwartz’s workplace temporarily closed.
She said sewing the masks makes her feel better about being so confined.
A consummate volunteer, Schwartz packs non-perishable, healthy food for Temple Beth Orr’s food bank near her home in Ramblewood, but, like her career as a dental hygienist, this activity has also come to a screeching halt.
Schwartz said she hasn’t worked in two weeks but understands times are tough for everyone; the idea of charging for her masks seems unnecessary.
“I would never charge people at a time like this,” she said, adding that whoever has materials to donate or wants a mask will have to observe the proper social distancing rules.
“I will be happy to pick up any donations or provide masks if we can leave them by my front door. I could also meet you somewhere but will keep 6 feet away. Whatever you are comfortable with,” said Schwartz.
To request masks or learn more about donating supplies or sewing skills, contact Meryl Schwartz.
- Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.
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