Hospital issues a plea; So. Tempe sisters launch mask production

South Tempe resident Rose Jeffery sports one of the cloth masks she has stitched to help fill what has become a worrisome worldwide void. — Photo courtesy Jeffrey family

With the Centers for Disease Control now recommending that people wear cloth masks when they are in public in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, the quest to acquire the protective gear just got that much harder.

Dignity Health Foundation East Valley put out a plea via email, asking the public for assistance in the endeavor to provide masks.

Employees at Chandler Regional Medical Center “are on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19.

“Masks are needed in this fight, all kinds. Your generosity in donating N95, surgical or hand-sewn masks would be greatly appreciated,” said the email from the foundation.

Two South Tempe sisters, Rose Jeffery and Lydia Mohr, have been hard at work sewing masks to help in the battle against the coronavirus.

Jeffery is a retired social worker and the mother of six grown children. Mohr is the mother of three adult children and a retired kindergarten teacher.

“The masks are going like hotcakes,” Jeffery said of the home-based project.

“I just felt because I knew how to sew, and the N95 masks were needed for healthcare workers, I had a moral obligation to make masks for the community.”

So far, Jeffery has made about 50 masks. It takes her about a day and a half to make 10, she said. “I went online and I was interested in what they were doing in China. They were already going through this.” She found a more complex design that she says offers better protection to wearers.

With so many stores sold out of elastic to make wearable bands, where did Jeffery and Mohr come up with the materials for their creations?

“I just used whatever I had around the house,” Jeffery explained.

Growing up, she and her sisters learned how to sew in their home economics classes at school. Her father was an upholsterer, “so we all knew how to sew,” she said.

A few neighbors have donated supplies, but Mohr visited SAS Fabrics in Tempe three weeks ago and purchased a spool of 144 yards. That ought to keep them elbow deep in sewing for a while.

Demand is high

South Tempe resident and physical therapist Jeff Petersen asked Jeffery if she’d be willing to make 20 masks for his staff. “One woman was going to charge us $18 each,” Petersen said. “Rose sees this as kind of her ministry.”

The homemade cloth masks, he adds, “allay some of the fear and once the CDC recommended everyone should be wearing masks, it got even harder to find them.”

Tempe City Councilmember Jennifer Adams knows Jeffery and said she thought it was great her fellow South Tempeans were stitching masks.

She also pointed to FABRIC, Tempe’s fashion incubator which is usually known for fashion shows and helping new designers create apparel.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has snagged them a new role: their manufacturing area will soon be making reusable, medical-quality gowns and masks.

“FABRIC was designed to be nimble and to help people manufacture what is most needed by a community, and to help designers succeed. We are proud to be able to help our medical professionals in this time of urgent need,” said FABRIC co-founder Sherri Barry.

Adams says first responders received some good news about more N95 masks being delivered in the first part of April which will alleviate some of the pressure they have been feeling with short supplies.

“They also have been trained on how to disinfect the masks, so they can use them up to five times,” Adams said.

She added that the CDC does not recommend that first responders use cloth masks but that they were good for general use by the public and should be used “at all times” when shopping at stores.

For her part, Jeffery is hoping area seamstresses can work together to craft more masks as the pandemic deepens.

She wants the city of Tempe to help coordinate a central location for businesses and families to pick up the homemade masks.

“There should be a central place where businesses and individuals could connect with people who sew and where supplies could be donated and handed out to those willing to sew masks,” Jeffery said.

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