Peggy Gilbertsen compares her recent efforts to help a cause to the victory gardens that Americans planted to support the war effort during World War II.
In the war against COVID-19, it quickly became apparent to Gilbertsen and other Beverly residents that those on the front line of fighting the pandemic needed more personal protective equipment—so they got out their sewing machines.
Gilbertsen and her friends have sewn hundreds of facemasks in recent weeks that were donated to hospitals in the Chicago area.
In their volunteer effort, no piece of clothing goes unused. Whether it’s a sock or a bra strap, if it has an elastic band, it can be used to make a facemask.
“The response has been absolutely amazing,” Gilbertsen said. “It just brings tears to your eyes. It shows what kind of community we are. It’s really something.”
Gilbertsen is one of about 10 people stitching together the masks. She recently assembled about 120, and the group had fabricated about 600 total during the week of March 30 with a few days to go.
Enjoying the craft of sewing since she was a youngster, Gilbertsen later sewed clothes for her children, and she is active with the “Nice Chicks With Sewing Machines” group on Facebook. Members “take care of each other” with supplies, she said, “like a little underground.”
Gilbertsen is a nurse, but at age 62, she is at risk for severe symptoms from COVID-19, so she is not working.
Feeling somewhat guilty, she decided to start sewing facemasks. Nurses originally told her they couldn’t wear her donations, but when that changed, Gilbertsen and her friends produced the masks en masse.
The donations went to OSF HealthCare Little Company of Mary, University of Chicago and Rush University medical centers.
The effort also recently produced 70 masks in one night for Misericordia, a community for people with special needs that houses vulnerable residents.
Gilbertsen said she is gratified that local support “took off.”
“You live in a neighborhood long enough, and you just know tons of great people,” Gilbertsen said. “So, it only took maybe a day. We never take money because it’s really a privilege to make these.”
Gilbertsen said the effort is focused on the people “really waging war on the front line,” such as nurses, paramedics, police officers and firefighters.
These professionals are already wearing N95 respirator masks—which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are the most common of the seven types of particulate-filtering facepiece respirators. They filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles.
However, the masks only last so long.
“This kind of gives them a little extra protection over those masks to kind of prolong the effectiveness of them a little bit,” Gilbertsen said. “Maybe it can protect the patient, as well as protect the caregivers.”
Volunteers are also making headbands for the masks, as health-care workers have suffered irritation on their ears due to prolonged contact with the elastic bands of commercial masks.
Sandy Beck, of Beverly, is among those sewing away and happy to use any fabric they can find.
“It’s very MacGyver-like,” Beck said. “We’re literally cutting clothes apart for elastic.”
Gilbertsen said she contacted Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office requesting her staff ask for the public to help in providing masks, and she sees it as a great project for Scouts, church groups and students looking to stay busy while they are out of schools.
Sewing the masks, Gilbertsen said, “is so darn simple.”
She and her friends are ready to sew together protective equipment for anyone on the front line fighting the virus.
“Whoever asks,” Gilbertsen said, “we give as much as we can.”
To support the efforts or request a donation, contact Gilbertsen on Facebook.