Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Ann Swift got her first sewing machine when she was just 14 years old. After learning the craft from her mother, she quickly became fascinated by the endless possibilities of material and thread. Over the years Ann continued to hone her skills, making her own prom dress, costumes for the theater department at Oklahoma State University and clothes for her children. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Oklahoma, Ann began using her sewing skills to make cloth masks with her daughter, Molly, who had continued the family sewing tradition.

“It was all her idea,” Ann said. “She wanted to do something productive instead of just sitting around during quarantine, so she approached me about making masks for the community.”

Making an Impact

Molly wanted to do something to combat the helplessness feeling that had been weighing her down since the pandemic began. Molly said she felt cloth masks could have a positive impact in three ways.

“First, I kept busy and didn’t have time to worry about what was going on in the world,” Molly said. “Second, for people to have something that will make them feel safer can do wonders for panic control. Third, with personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages, having the general public use cloth masks allows the heavy duty equipment to be saved for health care workers.” 

Community Response

Molly put a post on the Norman community Facebook page offering masks to community members, and they were immediately inundated with requests. Molly and Ann were spending 10-12 hours a day sewing masks. When it became apparent they were going to run out of material and supplies quickly, Molly made another post asking for donations. Again, they came rolling in. 

“As we were working through the individual requests, we learned that Norman Regional Health Foundation (NRHF) had asked for 10,000 masks to be donated,” Ann said. “So, once we got caught up on our first wave, we started making masks for the hospital.” 

Together, Ann and Molly have sewn 430 masks for the community, with more than 100 going to NRHF. Ann and Molly are members of a generous group of people and organizations that have donated more than 6,500 cloth masks to NRHF since March. Once received and sanitized by Foundation staff, the masks are given to healers and patients within the health system.

Oklahoma Standard

“I think this is the perfect example of the Oklahoma Standard,” said Trish Crow, development coordinator for NRHF. “Immediately, we had so many people in Moore reach out and offer to help. I think that’s just part of this community’s giving spirit. They received so much support after the 2013 tornado and because of that they want to give back.”

It wasn’t just cloth masks that came pouring in to the health system. The donation list includes 15,000 surgical and isolation masks, 7,000 N95 or KN95 masks, 110,000 nitrile gloves, 1,500 face shields, and more than 41,000 ounces of hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray.

“The support was absolutely fantastic,” NRHF Executive Director Erin Barnhart said. “We received donations from businesses, schools, churches, pharmacies, dental offices, libraries and more. People, not just across the state but from all over the country, are reaching out to help. It’s incredible.”

Feeding the Frontlines

Restaurants have also been extremely generous to the health system, providing thousands of meals to frontline workers since the pandemic began. 

“We had delivery drivers just showing up at the ER with 30 pizzas,” Trish said. “One business sent coffee and donuts to all the hospitals every day. That is a huge boost for those healers on the front lines.”

Financial contributions to the Foundation will be used to purchase PPE, pulse oximeters and a digital communication platform that allows loved ones to stay connected while hospitalized.   

Donations to NRHF can be made by calling 405-307-1077 or visiting nrhfoundation.org.