When a nurse practitioner friend of hers ran out of masks while doing post-evaluations on positive COVID-19 patients, Julie Humphries knew she needed to help.

So together with her sister, Melissa Edwards, she began sewing masks for her friend’s Oklahoma City clinic. 

“Then I realized that the need here in Crossville was just as great,” said Humphries.

The sisters are just two of many local sewers and quilters addressing the need for face masks as the coronavirus pandemic hits our community. Made out of 100% cotton, the homemade masks may not offer the same degree of protection as a surgical one or N95 respirator, but they’re better than nothing when supplies are low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“They are exceptionally thankful, especially the ones who are on the front lines of this virus with no other options but handmade masks,” said Humphries.

Humphries and Edwards, who co-own Sew Crafty Creations, are making masks that feature double layers with an opening in between for a filter. Some are using coffee filters as an extra layer of protection, while others are opting for HEPA filter material.

“The pattern and material recommendation were actually sent to me by a physician in Tulsa,” Humphries explained. “He said some people are using different materials, but we are doing it this way.”

Betty McDowell and other members of the Fairfield Glade Fantastic Quilt Guild and Machine Embroidery Sewing Society are among those using another CDC-acceptable pattern without a pocket.

“We’re making fabric masks to cover those with N95 filters to prolong their use or in place of disposable masks when those run out,” she explained.

McDowell said it seemed like the right thing to do since they had nowhere to go and plenty of fabric at their disposal. She estimates her group has made almost 400 masks so far for family, friends, doctors, pharmacists, first responders in Fairfield Glade and volunteers at the Peavine Care Center.

“We’re trying to help out whoever needs them,” she said. “We started out assuming we would be helping Cumberland Medical Center and its entities, and it turns out that we will be, but a whole bunch of other places have also requested them.”

Now, they want to consolidate their efforts for Protecting the Plateau, a new Facebook group on a mission to provide handmade masks for hometown heroes. It was started by Angela Witzel, owner of Dogwood Exchange, and Vicki Vaden, owner of Grandma’s Attic Antiques and More.

“Having health care experience and such and doing chemical biological training, you have to have the proper equipment, you know, or it’s doomed from the get-go,” said Witzel.

Using a similar pattern as McDowell, they are currently in need of cotton donations, including T-shirts, sheets and pillow cases. A drop-off event is being held on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon at the Dogwood Exchange, 92 E. First St. Donations should already be cut up and bagged.

“It will be a drive-through,” Witzel said, “so you will not get out of the car. We will not be congregating because we don’t want to create any more cases for health care workers.”

The pattern and a volunteer form is also available on their Facebook page for anyone interested in sewing masks, cutting up fabric or helping with delivery. 

The first drop-off event was held Saturday and resulted in enough material to make 425 masks. They plan to distribute these among the EMS, emergency rooms, intensive care units, nursing homes and doctor’s offices who have made a request by contacting EMA Director Rick Williams at 484-7016 or emadirector@cumberlandcountytn.gov.

“We just want to make sure that it is fair,” said Witzel. “That’s why we went through the Emergency Management Agency … so this way it’s done with some accountability...We just want to protect the people who are protecting us.”

Humphries and Edwards are also in need of help as well.

“We could really use volunteers to help at this point because we didn’t think it would be such an overwhelming need,” said Humphries. “I mean in 24 hours we had, I think, 140 [requests] and then, of course, in 48 hours we had over 200.”

The sisters’ masks are available for free to anyone in the medical field, retail, who has a compromised immune system or just for personal prevention. To request one, fill out their form at www.facebook.com/sewcraftycreationstn. Delivery within Crossville is included free.

“Our goal is about 75 per day. So far we have not fulfilled that because the first day we ran out of materials,” she said, referring to the current demand for elastic.

“We would love to keep doing this until everybody who has a need here in Crossville has them,” she added.

Missy Wattenbarger may be reached at mwattenbarger@crossville-chronicle.com