WOOD-RIDGE, NJ -  Crafty residents in Wood-Ridge have been spending their days hand making one of the newest in-demand products in the healthcare industry: ear savers. As of May 10, the group has crafted and donated over 3,000 ear savers to hospitals, rehab centers, and nursing homes in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California.

Ear savers work by holding the straps of masks on buttons behind the head, to take tension and pull off the ears for healthcare workers who wear masks for hours on end.

The team and group effort, which now includes nearly 90 volunteers, began in early April when Candyce Kologrivov, a Wood-Ridge resident and mother, saw a post on a crocheting group about to how to make these simple items with sewn on buttons. She posted the idea in the Wood-Ridge Parents Facebook group, and was met with responses from Cheri Ottevaere and Lina Insana Lopardo who volunteered to step up. The trio has been organizing the project, while Nina Kedersha helps the group with outreach.

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“I initiated the first Facebook post asking Forrest Elliot (a Wood-Ridge resident that does a ton of volunteer work) if he would be interested in me donating 75 pieces to Hackensack University Medical Center Easter luncheon that the Wood-Ridge residents were donating money towards," said Kologrivov. “ Cheri saw my post and said she would like to help and that was April 7th. And several days after that Lina came on board.” 

“The feelings are indescribable. On one hand I'm thrilled that we can help out and then there is the overwhelming sadness that these are so desperately needed by essential workers,” she observed.

Lopardo expressed similar feelings.

“I’m the kind of person who always likes to help others, and this time with the quarantine I felt very helpless and frustrated not being able to be out there helping in some way,” said Lopardo. “So when I saw Candy’s Facebook post about needing help to crochet ear-savers for a drop off at Hackensack hospital, I jumped at the opportunity. And everything snowballed. I joined the trio and got my mom, who loves crocheting, very involved as well as family and friends. What fueled me personally was the responses were we’re getting from nurses and healthcare workers. The Facebook posts with pictures, the cards, and of course the request for more!”

“That told us the ear savers were helping in some small way,” Lopardo explained. “Also it’s amazing the button donations that we’ve gotten from strangers, friends and companies that just wanted to contribute. We would find bags of them on porches and in our mailboxes. Donations from as far as south Jersey to New York City to our own little community of Wood-Ridge. It’s truly humbling.”

The group has grown from the trio and now includes 13 crocheters, 16 button sewers, over 55 people who have donated supplies, and other volunteers.

The Girl Scouts of Wood-Ridge also got involved. Another troop, 94037, also made blankets and thank you notes to make contributions to healthcare workers.

“Wood Ridge Girl Scout Troop 582 participated in the efforts to create ear savers for medical professionals. The service project was at the request of a Girl Scout Mom who was crocheting the piece which in turn needed a bottom on each end to complete its effectiveness. The girls sewed buttons onto crocheted pieces that serve to relieve the pressure on ears caused by wearing masks,” said Sandra O’Byrne, Wood-Ridge Service Unit Manager. “Most of our Girl Scout volunteers are parents and have had the task of being a teacher as well during this confinement.  I am proud to be a member of an organization where volunteers with much on their plates continue to keep their Girl Scout troop active and involved with community services and badges.”

Two Girl Scout Ambassadors who are also juniors at Wood-Ridge High School, Kimberly Burniston and Callie Negro, said that they both probably have sewn buttons onto over 100 ear savers.

“I’ve definitely made over one hundred. I usually get a new batch of 20+ a week. It makes me feel like I’m contributing and helping out those in need at this time,” said Negro. “It’s very important to help the medical professionals who are still working in any way I can.” 

Burniston shared a similar experience, saying “I love doing this because it is helping the people on the front lines, who are risking their lives. It is important for them to be as comfortable as they can be while wearing masks during long shifts.”

After a few weeks, the group ran into a huge obstacle: they lacked buttons needed to sew on the crocheted ear savers.

The community stepped up, though. Kologrivov thought of the idea of using Legos, and Ottevaera’s husband ran the first trial. Six men in town began to drill into Legos. 

One Wood-Ridge resident credits his wife for getting him involved in the project.

“She came across a post on Facebook that people were making ear savers for essential workers and they were looking for someone to drill holes into Legos to use in place of buttons,” said Brian Steed. “She knew I owned a drill for work and asked me if this is something I would be able to do."

“I felt that it would be nice to help out and volunteer especially with others in my community. I also believed that it was important to show my kids that we should help others in a time of need. I actually found the drilling to be relaxing especially during this stressful time.”

Ricardo Carbonaro is another resident who helped with the Legos.

Then, Bonnie Taylor, a Wood-Ridge resident and high school technology teacher at East Orange STEM Academy, who is a Makerbot certified educator for two years, stepped up to help. Her school had provided a 3D printer to help design and print face-shields, along with a group of teachers around New Jersey from the Picatinny Arsenal STEM Outreach program. After attending three days of training, she received a Makerbot 3D Printer. When she saw what the Ear Savers group was doing, Taylor knew that her printer could come in handy.

“I saw the amazing work being done in our community and knew I could help. My sister is a nurse Practitioner and I truly appreciate all of the work that was being done to support our true heroes, the medical professionals,” said Taylor. “I want to thank my school district for supplying the filament to make the face shields and buttons to support our healthcare workers. I feel fortunate to assist in the ear savers project and to live in a community that has such big hearts.”

The group also received a donation of 2,500 buttons (and an offer for more) from Keith Woda of Burt Trimmings, a clothing store in New York City.

Ear savers have even been distributed out of state, as nurses who work in New York City brought them to their hospitals, and Kologrivov sent bundles to friends in Vermont and California who requested them.

For the group, they explain that the response from their community and people receiving the ear savers has been tremendous, as they are swarmed with volunteers and thank you’s.

“We have sent several requests out for supplies including Legos, Ziploc bags, buttons, and tapestry needles.  I've had friends mail me packages from all over the country and at any time Cheri would have several bags of donations on her front steps waiting to be sorted,” Kologrivov. “[Those who are receiving them have responded as] So grateful! One nurse said she was just in tears because she was so thankful. The thank you's have been so inspiring and really make us want to keep going.”

Kologrivov accredits much of the success of her project to two individuals, especially: Mildred Todd and Ana Insana, who both crochet loads each day.

“This effort crossed over to several local towns. I posted on the East Rutherford Facebook page and a lovely lady named Mildred Todd makes at least 40 pieces a day. Lina's mother (Ana Insana who will be 83 in July) is a powerhouse and finishes 50, sometimes 100 a day,” Kologrivov said.

The Ear Savers of Wood-Ridge intend to continue going until their services are no longer in demand.

“At this time we have all pretty much committed to keep going until the need is through.  We've seen the requests slow down a little bit and that's okay… hopefully it means there isn't a need,” explained Kologrivov.

 

Nina Kedersha contributed to this article.

Editor’s Note: Emily Condon is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the “Pilot’s Log,” Hasbrouck Heights High School's newspaper. In addition, she is a member of the Student Council, Junior Executive Board, the Black Hole, head organizer of Spirit Week, co-organizer of the Junior Formal with History teacher Catherine Cassidy, and member of the indoor and outdoor Track and Field teams.

 

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