Two Ashtabula County women are putting their sewing skills to good use by making face masks, which are in short supply because of the coronavirus.

Jefferson resident Courtney Leonard, 27, has been sewing since she was a little girl.

A stay-at-home mother of two children, she makes dresses, costumes and children’s clothes, and for the past two weeks, face masks.

“I’ve been staying up until sometimes 2 a.m., sewing while my family is asleep,” Leonard said. “I read an article about a hospital in a different state asking for anyone who could sew, to sew cloth face masks for them. I knew I could sew them easily.”

Leonard researched online for patterns before making her first mask. 

“At the time, I wasn’t sure if my area needed masks, so I posted on Facebook asking if anyone was in need of the masks, and that I would donate them,” she said. “Within minutes, I received an overwhelming amount of requests for masks. At that point I realized that I no longer just want to make these for the community, I needed to make them.”

Cancer survivor Vicki Titman, 62, of Geneva, said she feels the same way.

“I am doing this for many reasons; mostly because I feel I should do it because I can do it,” she said. “The staff at Hillcrest Hospital used many masks and gloves while giving me chemotherapy. The staff in all hospitals are under such stress, yet they keep working, saving lives.”

Titman said some healthcare workers are using one mask for an entire day, and worse yet, many have run out.

“I just brought a mask to a girl on Tuesday who works in a nursing home and had no mask at all,” she said. “One nurse asked me for 15 for her staff to wear under the one mask they have. They can wash this mask and reuse it the next day.”

Despite battling breast cancer twice in the past 16 years, undergoing a double mastectomy and suffering with neuropathy, Titman is sewing about 25 masks per day, with help from her husband. She started by making only 10 masks a day because her fingers are numb from the neuropathy.

“It’s going quicker now that I have recruited my husband to turn them right side out after I sew them,” Titman said. “The neuropathy makes the sewing slower than it would be because my fingers go numb quickly.”

Leonard said she’s donating masks to nurses, hospice workers, nursing and rehabilitation centers, the jail, veterans, local families, a pediatric office, truck drivers and many others.

“At the moment I am out of elastic to make the masks and waiting on a shipment to arrive the beginning of next week,” she said. “I ordered enough elastic to make over 2,500 masks.”

She mostly gets her fabric, elastic and thread from people who donate the materials to help. Her mother also helps cut the fabric. 

“I will continue to make and donate masks as long as there is a need for them,” Leonard said. “I’m just doing what I can to help in this critical time.”

Titman said the same but with an added benefit — sewing masks is good therapy.

“This project is definitely helping me recover from the cancer and all that I’ve been through,” she said. ‘Rather than asking, ‘Why me?’ I am sewing.”

While sewing this week, Titman recalled a doctor visit not too long ago.

“Dr. Goel is a surgeon who operates on a lot of breast cancer patients and he was in my office one day,” she said. “He said to me, ‘So, what great thing happened out of this?”

Titman was amazed at that statement and replied, “Something great?”

The doctor said he has been seeing cancer patients for a long time and he’s found something great happens to all of these patients.

“Well, for one, my marriage is better,” she said, looking at the situation a bit differently. “So now I think, ‘What great thing will come out of the coronavirus pandemic?’”

Titman said she can think of at least one thing.

“Communities are pulling together to help each other out, doing whatever we can to help,” she said. “Together we are doing it.” 

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