WESTFIELD, NJ — With the CDC now encouraging the public to wear masks as protection from COVID-19, coupled with a nationwide shortage of N-95 and surgical masks, Westfield-area residents have been stepping up to craft masks on their own.

“I had heard on March 19 that there was a mask shortage for healthcare workers,” said Westfield resident Phyllis Binder. “I posted on a few Facebook groups that I belong to, and in a few days we had enough volunteers willing to make handcrafted fabric masks that we started a new Facebook group — NJ Sews in Unity.”

In just a few weeks the group has nearly 200 members who have taken on various tasks in the process — cutting fabric and elastic, donating and washing fabric, or sewing the masks.

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They have together donated more than 500 washable, reusable masks, mostly to healthcare workers treating patients who do not have COVID-19, to facilities including Atlantic Health System, Pediatric Specialty Care and Mercy Catholic Medical Center in Pennsylvania, and Harrogate Retirement Community in Lakewood, N.J.

Westfield resident Nellie Bloom is a physical therapist who recently joined NJ Sews in Unity to begin sewing masks.

“It’s very frustrating to be a healthcare worker and not have the opportunity to help anyone,” Bloom said. “This is what I can do without being on the front lines.” Bloom picks up the materials to create the masks and drops the finished product back on a volunteer’s porch. She finished her fourth batch of masks this week.

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Marci Kleinberg-Bandelli has been involved with the group since its inception.

“We have people doing the sewing, some who cut fabric, and others who are taking on the organizational aspect of our process,” said Kleinberg-Bandelli, who lives in Westfield. “It’s been exciting to see how so many people have come together, but without any personal contact, in such a short amount of time. It’s grown organically. There’s a safety protocol that we encourage, because we want this to be as safe as possible.”

While not a member of the NJ Sews in Unity group, Westfield resident Lynne Hirsh has also begun sewing masks that friends, family and neighbors are using to keep themselves safe while social distancing.

“I’m happy to be able to provide something so people can feel comfortable doing what they need to,” said Hirsh, who owns LH Design Interiors. “I have extra materials from window treatments and pillows from my interior design work, and some of it is a good weight for masks.”

Hirsh estimates that it takes her just over 30 minutes to craft a mask from start to finish. She packs them in individual bags with Life Savers candy and a note written by her two daughters that says “I hope this is your lifesaver,” and leaves them on her porch for pickup.

Hirsh’s masks, which she is providing at no cost, have become so popular since she posted on her social media that she has limited each family to two masks, and has started a waiting list.

As diagnosed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Westfield, the CDC recommends that residents wear masks for times when it’s necessary to leave the house.

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