Neighborhood Network Ramps up to Produce Masks for Senior Citizen Buildings

Just two weeks ago, Julie Hall and Amanda Zettel heard from Doug MacDonald that there was a bit of shortage of masks at the Zelma Lacey House – the senior citizen assisted living building located behind the Bunker Hill Mall.

Troubled by those reports, and reports that other senior buildings also needed more face protections, they put out the call.

It was an explosion of a response, and the newly-described “seamsters” haven’t stopped making masks since.

“My phone blew up with texts very quickly and we started calling it ‘Operation Townie Mask,’” said Hall. “It’s such a good thing everyone is doing. It started with helping the folks at the Zelma Lacey House, but it also helps those sewing, cutting and delivering the masks because they have something positive to do. Many people are just stuck inside a building…It’s an example of the incredible resilience of the human spirit. People just want to help.”

Zettel, who has a sewing machine and had practiced sewing before COVID-19, quickly gathered designs for the masks – which have to be 100 percent cotton – and contacted others she knew that also had sewing skills.

She heard that Ocean State Job Lots was giving away free fabric, so MacDonald was able to travel there and pick a lot of it up. From there, they were able to organize folks who couldn’t sew, but wanted to cut out the materials.

Soon, a Townie assembly line had formed.

MacDonald would deliver material to the cutters, then pick up the cut materials and distribute them to the sewers. When they finished, he would then deliver it to those who needed it – in the first instance it was Zelma Lacey.

“Now that all of Boston is supposed to be wearing masks when outside, everyone needs fabric and elastic to make masks,” said Zettel. “We were able to get a lot of fabric, and we’ve also been buying sheets and napkins at Target and places like that, but there is no elastic to be found anywhere. We had to customize the design a bit and we began using a tie-on mask. That design is actually better in the end because it’s a more universal fit.”

The operation was so efficient, and gathered about 25 “seamsters” (men and women), that they had the fabric delivered by April 5, and all of the masks were made and delivered to the Zelma Lacey by April 7. It was a remarkable turnaround, and one that was gratefully accepted by the seniors and staff at the home.

“The Zelma Lacey House residents and staff would like to thank the Charlestown Community for all of the donations we have received,” said Tabitha Jones. “A special ‘Thank You’ to everyone who has taken the time to make masks for our entire community. We are truly grateful and appreciate the kind gesture.”

Now, they are focusing on other senior buildings – having provided masks to most senior buildings in the Town by now.

The seamsters include a diverse group of Townies, including Lan Tran who came to Charlestown in 1985 and raised two daughters here. Having great sewing skills, her daughter got her going on the effort, and the mask making hasn’t stopped since.

Shannon Gilligan was another seamster that quickly went to work at her sewing machine – sitting in front of a sign reading ‘Shannon’s Happy Place.’

J.D. Mangrum of Christ Church Charlestown also mobilized his congregation in the effort, and they were able to produce 120 masks that were delivered to the Park Street senior building.

Clearly the effort has been as meaningful for the producers as it has been helpful for the recipients.

“Our seamsters are dying to do more,” said Zettel. “When we’re delivering them around the Town, we sometimes see an older adult out without a mask and Doug will stop the car, get out and just give them one of our masks while he’s delivering. Everyone is grateful.”

Hall said it was an effort that really sprung out of the momentum and familiarity developed during the Master Plan community process last summer and fall. With the 02129 Neighbor Alliance already intact, Hall said it was easy to reach out to a huge swath of the community electronically.

“We all got to know each other so well through the planning process and we were able to easily reach out to everyone through that network,” she said.

Anyone who would like to be involved in the effort is encouraged to email [email protected].

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