TALLAHASSEE — Faced with a pandemic-induced shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Tallahassee area responded with a coordinated effort to produce hand-made masks.

Myla Wahlquist, president of the Relief Society (women’s organization) in the Tallahassee Third Ward, got involved when her sister-in-law asked her to head a 350-mask project for Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (TMH) emergency room. Wahlquist, who works in the pediatric rehab department at TMH, said the project has been understandably close to her heart.

“It’s an honor to do this work for TMH,” she said. “I know firsthand about the challenges healthcare facilities face and how important these masks are to them.”

While Wahlquist’s group was largely from the Tallahassee Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — which includes congregations in Tallahassee, Thomasville, Cairo, Quincy, Crawfordville, Perry, and Madison — other eager participants have come from her workplace and other churches and associations in Tallahassee.

“When I ran short of seamstresses, I mentioned the need on my personal Facebook page,” she said. “It had a big response. People have been so anxious to help, and every single person I dropped off fabric to has asked for more.” 

Wahlquist noted the “worldwide shortage of PPE” and the fact that the need for masks is substantial. TMH requires them to be used by all staff members, even those without direct patient contact. 

The handmade masks are even serving an additional gratifying purpose, she said.

“Direct service providers, we’ve found, are using our masks on top of their N95 masks," Wahlquist said. "This allows the N95s to be used longer because, when soiled, they have to be thrown away.”

Making the masks correctly requires multiple, painstaking steps, according to Wahlquist. Components — all donated — include metal pieces that must be cut, with the ends twisted so they do not poke through fabric. Fabric pieces must be cut carefully, and the tie pieces must be folded and ironed several times to get the right shape.

“It’s not easy, but people are so anxious to help,” she stated. “We had people who don’t sew cutting fabric and prepping ties. We had help from the men and women missionaries in our church — those young men prepared 1900 metal pieces. I was shocked. And we were dropping off components to graduation groups, churches, and other organizations. I had fabric all over town; I had metal all over town. It was everywhere. We did zero-contact drop-off. And, when they were finished, we delivered them to the main ambulance bay at TMH.” 

Thanks to such robust volunteer efforts — including those of her college-age son Preston, who “really shared the load” — and to having extra fabric and supplies donated, Wahlquist said her group was able to double the original number of masks they were responsible for. 

“The involvement has been amazing, and I never expected it,” she said. “These are busy people. When I try to thank them, they thank me. It’s been such a blessing to see all this goodness and willingness in people to come together, work so hard, and be so happily engaged in serving our frontline workers.”

ProjectProtect

Just as volunteers have labored selflessly in our local communities, so, too, have likeminded people in other areas nationally and internationally. ProjectProtect is one such endeavor. 

A charitable, community initiative, ProjectProtect was organized by University of Utah Health, Intermountain Healthcare, and Latter-day Saint Charities to provide five million clinical face masks and other types of PPE for Utah’s front-line health care professionals treating COVID-19 patients.

The challenge was accepted willingly. In record speed, one million masks (of the five million total) were prepared for ProjectProtect by members of the Relief Society women’s organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These masks were recently collected in five locations in Utah, the LDS Church News reports. 

“General Relief Society President Jean B. Bingham stood in a near-empty parking lot of Deseret Industries in Harrisville, Utah — where, for hours on a recent Saturday morning, car after car lined up delivering thousands of protective masks.

“Sharon Eubank (counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency) said people always worry that the worst in people will surface in a crisis — that they will be selfish or there will be price gouging. ‘But my experience is the best in people also comes out. And you will see people want to participate, want to do something to show the goodness of humanity and to benefit people who are putting their lives at risk for all of us.’

“It is something that happens all across the world, all the time, and ‘not just in a pandemic,' she added.

“In Beira, Mozambique, for example, members of the local LDS stake sponsored a mask project — not for themselves but for traders in the dense market, where infection can spread rapidly.

“Each family committed to make 100 masks from fabric purchased by the stake.  But the interesting thing is they made them by hand; they didn’t have sewing machines,' Eubank said. 

“The project in Mozambique, she said, is ‘indicative of the spirit of how people are responding in their communities.’”

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