FAIRFIELD, NJ — With local cases of COVID-19 rapidly increasing and "stay-at-home" orders continuing for at least the next few weeks, many residents, businesses and organizations throughout the area are finding creative ways to support essential workers and continue to serve the community.

Fairfield resident Kim Martyniak Carlton, for instance, is putting her sewing skills to good use by creating much-needed homemade surgical masks for essential workers.

As the founder of NJ Angels For Kids, Carlton transforms donated wedding, christening and communion dresses or suits into burial outfits for those in need. When friends and clients started tagging her in social media posts from Atlantic Health System about how to make surgical masks during the pandemic, Carlton knew how should be spending her time in quarantine. 

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"I find time to make masks by not doing much of anything else," she said. "There are dishes in my sink, my laundry is piling up, but I take care of things when I take a break from cutting fabric, sewing and fielding texts and phone calls for requests."

Atlantic Health System's website includes written and video instructions detailing how to make masks for the healthcare teams at Morristown Medical Center, Overlook Medical Center, Chilton Medical Center, Hackettstown Medical Center and Newton Medical Center. According to Atlantic Health, these donations will help to ensure the safety of the workers and allow them to provide extraordinary care to patients.

Carlton explained that these masks will be sterilized and used for those working in healthcare spaces who are not directly at risk for COVID-19 exposure but still need additional protection. This will allow the professional protective gear to be used exclusively for healthcare professionals who are at higher risk of exposure, she said.

In addition to donating resources to Atlantic Health facilities, Carlton is also looking to assist other hospitals after hearing from a personal friend who is a nurse at an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Columbia Presbyterian in New York City that has been turned into a COVID-19 unit.

"The nurses are being given one mask per shift and are now required to wear masks even at the desk and are in need of more," said Carlton, adding that when they are not with patients, the nurses will be able to wear the reusable cotton masks that she has donated.

Carlton expressed gratitude toward the community members who have either donated their time to cutting fabric and sewing masks or donated cotton T-shirts, sheets, fabric, elastic, Ziploc bags and funds for the project.

"It's incredible the show of support I've received," said Carlton. "I can't thank everyone enough."

Although the "angel" gowns and suits are on hold for now, Carlton said she will continue to make these masks and is currently reaching out to other local hospitals to assess their needs.