SOUTH PLAINFIELD - Even though the doors of the South Plainfield Senior Center may be temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 quarantine, the center is working to help seniors and the community by making homemade masks.  On April 7, armed with material, elastic, scissors and fabric, the labor of love to make masks for all the seniors of the Senior Center who need them began.  The masks are free and after they finish giving all older South Plainfield residents masks, additional masks will go to those in the community who need them while supplies last.

"We wanted to do something to help people," said Administrative Assistant to the Director, Linda Fiore.  "We have a lot of seniors that we're very concerned about.  And one of our volunteers just lost her son to the virus. I grew up with him and the family is very dear to me.  So we just want everyone to be safe."   

Along with Fiore, Senior Center Executive Director Patricia (Tree) Olano and Grace McGuinnis, Senior Center member who leads the center's craft program, Gracefully Made, are undertaking the endeavor. 

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“I’m honestly so blessed to come to work every day with people who each have a heart just as big as mine!" said Olano.  "We all love each other and work really well together.  We all are good at something and together we make an awesome team.” 

"I used to be a sewer, and I have a lot of fabric," McGuinnis said.  "I'm only too happy to help."

With fabric in hand, the team just needed a sewing machine.  The call was put out to the community on FaceBook for a sewing machine, and they quickly received six donated sewing machines.  The team went to work to make the much-needed masks.  

"We've got a pretty good handle on it as far as making them," McGuinnis said.  "They're turning out well."

"The masks are washable so you can wear them and then wash them," Fiore said.  "You can't even get the disposable masks in the store right now, so having one you can wash and wear again is important."

McGuinnis has been working from her South Plainfield home to cut out the fabric.  Fiore and Olano are manning the Senior Center, Olano cutting more fabric patterns and Fiore sewing on the elastic and fastening them into masks.  The team is optimistic that they will be able to provide masks for the hundreds of seniors who rely on them for support, and even hope to provide additional masks for those who need them in the community. 

"I want to give them out to our seniors first," Fiore said.  "I've been with these seniors for almost fourteen years and want to make sure they are safe since many can't get out to buy masks.  But if we make enough of them and there is more of a demand in the community, then we will try to help everyone." 

Fiore says she wants to make sure everyone stays at home and doesn't visit the stores unless necessary, but says if anyone has thin elastic they can donate, they would be grateful.

"I'm making the kind of masks that have the elastic around the ear, but I don't want people to have to go out and buy it," Fiore said.  "Everyone needs to stay at home, and we're going to make due with what we have, but if anyone has extra thin elastic, we will absolutely take it.  They can drop it off at our backdoor."

The Senior Center has become a lifeline for hundreds of seniors, who now truly miss the social aspect of the center and diverse programs they have come to love.  McGuinnis says she really misses the activities and friends at the Senior Center.  She created Gracefully Made two years ago and several participants were meeting regularly before the quarantine to make unique and beautiful crafts.  

"You should see the emails I'm getting from the group about missing our time together making crafts," said McGuinnis.  "We all can't wait until the crafts start again.  We love doing the program.  When it first started, some of them came in and said they've never done this before, and now you should see what they come up with, the most beautiful creations you can imagine."   

To make things even more difficult, the quarantine has prevented many seniors from not only seeing their friends, but from seeing their children and grandchildren.  Sharon Ciullo, Driver for Middlesex County "Meals on Wheels" and Outreach program, is currently working from home, reaching out to the seniors.  

"We're going through our whole list of all the seniors who are signed up here and calling them," Fiore said.  "We're calling them, checking on them, asking if there's anything they need, and we do that every day.  We have hundreds of seniors and Sharon is home right now, so she's doing all the calling for us."

The older generation may need little supplies that we take for granted and the center works to meet all their needs whether big or small.

"I had a gentleman that needed bread and peanut butter," Fiore said.  "So we get what we can and try to help out.  Many just want to talk because they can't see their families, and they just want to call and talk to us.  And we're here to listen to them."

"I try to reach out to the people who are alone because I know what it's like to be alone," said McGuinnis. 

The community is also helping with food donations to the Senior Center for distribution.

"We've been getting a lot of donations, which is really nice," Fiore said.  "Last night we had 20 dinners delivered from Luigis for free that we distributed to our seniors in need.  It's just been wonderful.  We have a really good community, and they're all here to help, so it's nice.  It's a good feeling."

Plans are in the works for a celebration after the quarantine ends and safety guidelines are relaxed.

"The seniors keep asking when they can come back, they miss their second home," Fiore said.  "We tell them we'll have a nice big party when it's time to come back."

Anyone interested in getting a mask or donating supplies to make the masks, can contact the South Plainfield Senior Center at 908-754-1047.

"It's about all of us helping each other and being safe," Fiore said.  "This is our way of trying to give back to help so no one has to lose their loved ones.  We just want to help.  It's a group effort, and we're all in this together."