Local quilters guild volunteering to make thousands of face masks for when Lawrence students return to classrooms
photo by: Contributed photo
Whenever students end up returning to classrooms, a group of local quilters hopes to make them a bit safer from the coronavirus by providing them with handmade face masks.
Some members of the Kaw Valley Quilters Guild, a Lawrence-based club with more than 200 members, are hard at work this summer making as many face masks as they can before the beginning of the school year. Kelley Stillings, who is leading the effort, said she is hoping volunteers can make more than 6,000 masks to donate to the Lawrence school district.
Stillings said she’s been impressed with the handful of members who were donating time and effort to the cause.
“Most quilters are very generous, and when they see something, they just hop on it and get it done,” Stillings said.
Students are going to need masks whenever they return to school, as Gov. Laura Kelly recently ordered all students, staff and visitors to schools to wear them when in-person classes begin. Stillings said she began organizing the effort for Lawrence after seeing a flyer in Topeka asking for help making masks for students. She said if Topeka students need masks, surely Lawrence students do, too.
Additionally, Stillings had a contact in the Lawrence school district. As a former teacher in Atchison, Stillings had previously worked with new Free State High School assistant principal Matthew Renk, who was previously the principal at Atchison High School.
Stillings said she reached out to Renk to see if Free State needed masks, and Renk said the school would take 2,000 from the group. While that is a lot of masks, guild members asked about the other Lawrence schools, and subsequently added Lawrence High School and the Lawrence middle schools to the list as well.
photo by: Contributed photo
Originally, Stillings said she was worried the group wouldn’t make all 6,000 masks in time. As of Tuesday, Stillings said the group has made about 1,700 masks. But the quilters will have a little more time than they expected, because the Lawrence school board recently delayed the start of the school year until Sept. 8, and the district won’t have in-person classes for at least the first six weeks of school.
“I am glad that they are postponing opening, not just for the mask situation, but for the safety of the students, teachers, and staff. Of course, I am glad to have some extra time for the mask project,” Stillings said. “We will keep making masks and donate whatever we have.”
However, in addition to what the quilters are donating, the Lawrence school district will still be purchasing its own masks for students and staff to comply with Kelly’s order. Julie Boyle, a spokeswoman for the school district, said the school district is applying for federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as CARES, to help pay for them.
But the district is still thankful that the community is stepping in to help, she said.
“The district is truly fortunate to be a part of a community that values and supports public education,” she said in an email to the Journal-World.
Stillings said she expected the school district to purchase its own personal protective equipment, but she figured the quilters guild’s help would still be useful. She said any masks the school district doesn’t use will be donated to other groups.
Some of the quilters in the guild have really taken to the project and have already been donating some masks to other groups. Stillings said Liz Granberg-Jerome, who is a Baldwin City resident, is something of a superstar in making masks. She has made more than 1,000 masks for various organizations since the pandemic began in March.
Granberg-Jerome was able to make so many because she came up with a sort of assembly-line method, she said. Her husband, Leslie Jerome, does all the cleaning and cutting of the fabric, then stacks the pieces for Granberg-Jerome to grab and sew together with a filter inside. She said she will continue the process making a line of masks that she clips apart later.
photo by: Contributed photo
Granberg-Jerome said she felt compelled to volunteer for the Lawrence school district effort, even though she’s in Baldwin City, because all of her children attended Lawrence schools and she feels a connection to the city and its community.
But Granberg-Jerome and her husband have been making masks for much more than that. She said they’ve made masks for Baldwin City and other local communities. She also recently shipped some masks to California and New York.
“We’re doing it for anyone who needs them,” Granberg-Jerome said. “We’re doing as much as we can through the Lawrence guild, which includes the schools, but also wherever we get asked.”
The project has also been a welcome activity for Granberg-Jerome. She said she’s essentially retired, but she’s been teaching and presenting quilting methods for about five years now. But during the pandemic, all of that is on hold, so she has a lot of free time to put her skill to work.
She also said it’s a good way to continue doing good for the community, something she has always focused on throughout her life.
“I’ve been doing this kind of volunteer work since I was a kid,” Granberg-Jerome said, noting she made stuffed animals for hospital patients when she was a teenager. “This was just the next thing as a way to give back and be in service of the community in some way.”
Stillings said the group is also accepting help from people who are not in the quilters guild. She said anyone who can sew and wants to help by making masks can get in touch with her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting the guild’s website, www.kawvalleyquiltersguild.org.
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