Alba Hochman likes to say she has a “dealer.” But it’s nothing the South Orange resident has to keep hidden. The dealer she works with provides hard-to-find elastic for the team of facemask fabricators she recruited to create much needed protective gear for health-care workers during the coronavirus crisis.
Like most others, Hochman, 42, had no idea what to do as the crisis mounted. But as a crafter she knew she could at least create community amid the chaos. With her partner Nancy — her trusted sewing machine — at the ready, she launched her project on March 21.
As soon as she started the SoMa (South Orange/Maplewood) Sewing Volunteers Facebook group, reaching out to crafters to find a way to respond to the crisis, close to 200 people joined. At first there was no definite plan, Hochman said. “It was just: Let’s get everybody together…. If we’re all crafters, we’re all willing to do this. How can we all work together?” Several other community members stepped up to help moderate, and — after Hochman saw CNN reports on the shortage of facemasks for healthcare providers — they quickly settled on the idea of deploying their skills and sewing machines to make face masks.
They contacted Atlantic Health Systems — which encompasses six hospitals, including Morristown and Overlook medical centers and a range of other health services. Staff there provided a pattern and fabric specifications for making effective masks: flannel for the inside, flat cotton on the outside — and, of course, elastic to keep the mask on the face. Group members immediately rallied to support the effort — even those without a sidekick like Nancy — donating materials, cleaning and cutting fabric, picking up or dropping off supplies and, eventually, the products themselves.
The result: In its first 24 hours, the effort yielded an impressive output — 112 face masks for use by local health-care workers.
The speed with which the project moved into high gear “gives you a sense of how eager people are to be able to do something,” said Hochman in a phone interview with NJJN on Sunday night, March 22.
Among the supplies most difficult to come by, Hochman discovered, is elastic; it’s scarce all over. Atlantic Health has been able to provide the group with elastic (where it is coming from — Hochman’s “dealer” — remains a mystery).
The face masks are not being used by those having direct contact with coronavirus patients — they require a different level of protection — but by health-care workers who are dealing with other patients in the hospitals.
“Us crafters, we love putting our trade to use, and we love having it out there,” said Hochman. “For many of us, it’s just there’s something hopeful about being able to participate, even in something as random as cutting fabric.”
Hochman, who works part-time in marketing, also sees the project as setting a valuable example for her two children, one in kindergarten, the other in second grade. “It’s clearly tzedakah, you know; we’re trying to heal the world in any little way that we can,” said Hochman, a member of Congregation Beth El in South Orange. “It’s showing them that something as simple as cutting fabric can mean something to someone else.”
SoMa Sewing Volunteers won’t refuse help from anyone — even those who do not live in the local area — but each person is responsible for dropping off or picking up supplies. Hochman also suggests checking local communities for similar groups, or going to atlantichealth.org and searching for its posted video instructions on how to make a face mask