MILLBURN, NJ — For Carisa Reilly, the project started with a conversation on an email chain.
"In Millburn and Short Hills, we have an email group called WorkMom, run by three residents," Reilly said. "And so we were all chatting with each other and somebody said, 'Somebody should make these [protective medical gear].' And I said 'That's a great idea.'"
Reilly, who is in the process of making and delivering CDC-compliant masks and scrub caps to healthcare workers, hospital workers and first responders, spoke with TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills about how she got into her current project, and how much support she has seen from the community.
After hearing from the group, Reilly did some research, and found a design that is compliant with the CDC protocols for facemasks, as well as reusable. She modified it a bit by putting a wire at the top to help the mask cling tighter to the face, and a dry cloth to help make an electrostatic filter.
"About 12 of us started doing that, [and] people were very generous, donating the wire and the fabric and the dustcloths and the elastic," she said. "So we started making them, and we spent a week or so just trying to crank them out, and we quickly figured out that we just weren’t going to put a dent in this, just trying to make a few a day.”
At that point, Reilly realized she would need outside labor to help progress the project along. She ended up going to a local dry cleaner who had a seamstress looking for work, and hired her to stitch the materials together. The initial payment to the seamstress was made by her, with donations covering the cost of the rest of the materials and labor.
She also noted that speaking with Millburn mayor Jackie Lieberberg was helpful, because it allowed her to reach out to hospitals, residents and other organizations much more effectively. The support was incredible, according to Reilly.
"So I went to the community, I think it was April 2 and said it’s going to cost me about this much to crank out 40 masks, and would you guys be willing to help me fund this […] I’m going to try and get 1,200 masks done in seven days," she said. "That was around 4:00 April 2. By 9:00 that night, I had about $2,000, which was actually more than I even needed for that original amount."
During the process of constructing the masks, Reilly ran into several hurdles, which she was helped out of by the community. When she couldn't cut supplies fast enough, Millburn Deli owner Andrew Morgan directed her to someone with a laser cutter who helped speed the fabrication process along.
And when she began to run low on materials, business owners and community members donated drycloths and elastic in enough of a quantity to help her out. As of the interview, Reilly said that almost 300 pieces were ready at the time of the interview, with the rest coming soon. Additionally, the project was funded to almost $3,500
While she and her children were working on the masks, another resident spoke with her and said she needed a scrub cap to use, since she was out of those at her job. Reilly got to work, looping her daughters in to the mix, and was soon cranking out scrub caps alongside the masks.
In her interview, Reilly was incredibly appreciative of the support the community had shown for her project, and the ways in which they had pitched in.
“Everything I’ve asked for help with, they’ve totally delivered," Reilly said. "And I also really appreciate the kind words of encouragement that people have sent. That’s been wonderful.
I’d really like to thank the mayor for being very helpful and supportive, and of course I want to thank our first responders and all of our healthcare workers in the community who are working in the area, or outside the area for doing what they do. I really help that this helps save lives.”
Additionally, she noted that as long as the project is funded, masks and scrub caps will continue to be produced.