Culpeper teachers make masks for essential workers

Sicheri and Cotter have used their own fabric scraps and purchased elastic to make the masks, which have both a cotton and a flannel side. They have also purchased fabric to fill requested orders related to sports teams, cartoon characters, and events.

Theresa Sicheri’s regular job is teaching biology and ecology lessons at Eastern View High School. But since the Covid-19 pandemic, she has been sewing masks for essential workers, family and friends.

Along with creating online content for their students, Sicheri and others are doing their part to help the community. 

“We have made upward of 300 [masks],” Sicheri said. “We started just to make them to donate to the school and then my husband needed them at his work. I posted a picture of him and it exploded.”

Each day, Sicheri and her friend, Kim Cotter, work in Sicheri’s sewing room to fill “orders.” Cotter, a preschool teacher at A.G. Richardson Elementary School, cuts the fabric and flannel pieces for each order and Sicheri sews the pieces together.

Along with sewing masks for school administrators, custodial staff, and teachers providing daycare for essential workers, the ladies have mailed masks to nine other states including New York, California, and Hawaii.

“Kim and I are trying to stay busy and focus on something we can do instead of the negative and the numbers,” Sicheri said. “We hear cases and deaths every day. With stay at home orders and missing our students, it beats mourning the school year. That would turn into a lot of anxiety and gloom. This has given us an outlet to provide help to those that need the help and want to protect themselves.”

The women started making the masks for family and friends and then received requests and offers for payment. They have taken funds made — $5 per mask — and purchased enough elastic to create at least 500 more masks. The women plan to donate any extra funds to a local food bank to help families in need.

Sicheri and Cotter have been spending some of their days breaking down orders, putting kits together, and sewing to the tunes of 1980s music.

“We will keep making masks until demand or elastic runs out,” Sicheri said. “Of course, we love fabric and getting to create something from a piece of cloth as simple as a mask is an outlet for creativity.” 

Melessa Suder, who teaches agriculture and is the FFA adviser at EV, started making cloth masks for her family and friends and quickly realized she could turn the pieces around quickly. She soon joined a local Facebook group that is putting crafters in contact with organizations who need masks. 

Local groups, such as nursing homes and first responders, post their needs and the members of the group fill them. Organizers for the group then collect the orders and distribute them, Suder said. 

As of this week, Suder has made approximately 75 masks using materials she purchased herself or others have donated to her. She now has supplies to make at least 75 more.

“I come from a family of sewing ladies,” Suder said. “My mom and grandmother made most of their own clothes and mine when I was a child.  My mother even made her own wedding dress.  I'm not as talented as they are/were and I don't make clothing, but I do make quilts, basic curtains, etc.  I do enjoy sewing and taking on this mask project has helped keep me busy and maintain a little sanity during this craziness.  I'm not much of a TV person so I needed something to keep me busy.”

Jeanie Barlow, the EV’s school nurse, is using her crocheting skills to create “mask buddies,” devices that keep the elastic from the mask from bothering the person’s ears. Barlow, who does not know how to sew, learned how to crochet by donating her time to crochet blankets as part of the school’s MakerSpace program.

Right now, Barlow is using her own yarn supply but is looking for large buttons to help put her pieces together. Thus far, she has crocheted 50 mask buddies for workers at a local rehabilitation center.

“I'm glad that I can help,” Barlow said. “I worked in a hospital for 18 years. The thought of our hospital staff not having enough PPE hurts my heart. I salute all of those who are selflessly working in the front lines during this difficult time. You are appreciated. This is the least that I can do.”

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