WEST ORANGE, NJ -- Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, West Orange resident Charlotte Wescott has sewn more than 2,600 face masks.
The masks Wescott makes provide protection to nursing home residents, foster children and Native Americans across the United States, as well as home health care aides, women’s shelters and frontline medical workers in local hospitals.
Wescott, who moved from Brooklyn 18 years ago with her husband Mario and daughter Marina, has been sewing since a child, when she was taught by her mother.
Wescott, who is retired, sews daily approximately 20 masks on her 30+ year-old Bernina sewing machine. In March as the pandemic was just beginning and masks were not readily available, Wescott searched YouTube for instructions on how to make masks, and from that first night, staying awake until 1 a.m. sewing masks, she has not stopped.
Wescott who had a large quantity of material stored away at home, initially posted on Facebook asking her neighbors if anyone needed a mask and would leave the masks on her front porch for neighbors with their names on a bag for pick up.
Shortly thereafter, a neighbor who is a nurse in the cardio-surgical unit at a hospital in Denville informed Wescott that masks were needed at her hospital, and West Orange resident Patricia Mitrano, an administrator at Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, also requested masks and Westcott began sending her masks towards those hospitals in need. Wescott, like Mitrano, is a volunteer with the West Orange Arts Council, and the masks made with batik fabrics are provided to donors who make contributions to the Arts Council as an incentive and a thank-you.
In addition to local hospitals and residents, Wescott has boxed 100 masks at a time and shipped them to women’s shelters in Brooklyn, to Native Americans including members of the Sioux (North and South Dakota), Navajo (Arizona), Lakota (Washington) and Inuit (Alaska) communities, children in the foster care system in Michigan, home health care workers and residents of women’s shelters in Brooklyn. All shipping costs have been paid by Wescott who stated: “I feel very fortunate that I can do this. It helps to feel connected and to contribute. It makes my heart feel full.”
As she has continued to sew the masks, Wescott has expanded the sizes of the masks to include adult, large-adult, pre-teen, child, and toddler sizes. Consideration is given to fabric choices particularly for the children. Refinements also include now the usage of t-shirt material for a more comfortable ear grasp, pleated sides for greater protections and a nose wire added to secure the mask and to help prevent glasses from fogging. In addition to the masks, Wescott has been sewing surgical caps that are also needed and to date has completed dozens that have been sent to St. Barnabas and Memorial Hospitals.
Wescott is guided to those in need by getting involved in the national organization Million Mask Challenge, that may be accessed at www.GETPPE.org . The website notes: “Our mission is to connect donors to healthcare workers and caregivers in need of PPE to keep them safe during COVID-19. We value teamwork, empowerment and service. We are a grassroots effort led by people who have family and friends on the front lines of the COVID-19 global pandemic.”
To date the organization has provided 961,456 masks. The website is set up for donations of manufactured PPE, blood, and hand made items. The organization provides lists for entities that are requesting items and matches them to donors. Individual mask-makers, such as Wescott are provided a list of organizations across the country that are in need, so they may determine where they would like to send the masks.
A local organization that Wescott stays in touch with for a “sense of community” is the SOMa Sewing Volunteers, a group that has made thousands of masks. The group is comprised of residents from South Orange, Maplewood, West Orange, and Livingston and has hundreds of members who have donated their time and made masks for hospitals across New Jersey.
Wescott reflected how isolating and sad it had been leaving the boxes of the mask at the various facilities because there was no contact with the staff. She has received notes thanking her for her efforts and feedback as to how useful the masks had been. Commenting that while masks are available now and have become easier to get then the beginning of the pandemic, many particularly those in the foster care system, Native Americans or inmates who are being released do not have easy access to the face masks and are greatly needed.
Westcott sees this as labor of love and relishes the opportunity to use her skills to assist during the pandemic.
"Liife got a lot easier since my retirement," she said. "I watch ‘Law and Order’ with my dogs, cat and parakeet and sew.” If anyone would like to donate cotton fabric or elastic, Wescott suggested a private message be sent to her on Facebook. Wescott said, “People need to wear a mask; this is not political.”