MAPLEWOOD, NJ — When Gary Jones bought his daughter a sewing machine five years ago, he never expected he’d be the one to use it more.

But as coronavirus gripped the U.S., he wanted to do something to help others and got stitching making face masks.

 “I was very slow, but by the end of the first day I had five masks,” Jones said. At first, it would take him 90 minutes to create each mask, but “now I can do them much quicker and better quality.”

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He joined a Facebook group, SOMA Sewing Volunteers, and in the group, tasks are divided up into a loose assembly line, so Jones no longer has to cut fabric himself. “Now I just sew,” he said, and said he is grateful to participate in this way and be useful to others during the pandemic. “It’s quite a powerful group of people looking to make a difference.”

SOMA Sewing Volunteer’s member Tina Kelley’s front porch has become the hub for picking up and dropping off cut fabric ready for sewing. When volunteer fabric cutters drop off the patterns, and after sewers drop off finished masks, Kelly quarantines them for four days at her Maplewood home to allow any viral load which might be lurking to die off. 

They get donations of fabric and elastic to work with — “elastic was the toilet paper of March,” said Kelley — and new members are always welcome.

The group now has over 500 members, and the volunteers come from not only Maplewood and South Orange, but all over Essex and Union counties. “It’s really widespread,” said Kelley, who joined the group shortly after it started.

The group prioritizes donations to smaller organizations within Essex County, which may lack the resources to acquire personal protective equipment. Their goal is to help those “that are most highly impacted by COVID-19 cases,” the group description states. To date, the group members have sewed and donated more than 15,000 masks.


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