Mary Calvin is coordinator of the Yarmouth Sewing Warriors, which has made rough 1,400 cloth masks to help block coronavirus transmission. Courtesy Mary Calvin

YARMOUTH — When the coronavirus pandemic called, the Yarmouth Sewing Warriors answered.

The group, born in March out of the Yarmouth Coronavirus Task Force and composed of nearly 100 volunteer sewers, has produced roughly 1,400 cloth masks, which help prevent the wearer from spreading the disease.

“It keeps piling up by the hundreds; it’s fantastic,” said Warriors’ coordinator Mary Calvin.

The group produces free mask-making kits – containing everything needed to make 10 masks except thread and a sewing machine – and leaves them in a blue and white cooler outside 3 Church St., on a porch that faces East Elm Street. Anyone can swing by, pick up a kit, and deliver masks to a separate cooler at the same address. Some people leave their names with the masks; others drop them off anonymously.

“I think that’s one of the reasons that we’ve gotten so many people to sew,” Calvin said. “They can either pick them (the kits) up or I’ll take them to their house.”

Information on pickups and drop offs can be found at yarmouthsewingwarriors.com. The group also has a Facebook page.

Calvin drops by daily to pick up the completed masks, and seeing a cooler filled with them “makes your whole day, because you realize that there are people all over this area sitting in their homes, all by themselves, sewing,” Calvin said. “You get 10 people delivering 10 masks, and all of a sudden you’ve got enough to make a huge difference somewhere.”

The masks are distributed to places like nursing homes, medical centers, homeless shelters and supermarkets – locations where many people tend to congregate –  and where the need is greatest, “to see if we can prevent any outbreaks,” Calvin said.

While Yarmouth is the group’s first priority, it has been able to branch out to surrounding communities, thanks to the many masks the group has received, she said.

The Sewing Warriors have benefited from a variety of donations, such as fabric from Cuddledown, a Yarmouth bedding manufacturer, and T-shirts from P & P Screen Printing that can be cut up to make ties for the masks. A Buddhist monk friend gave fabric from some of her old robes, Calvin said.

The wealth of material has allowed her to donate materials, beyond what’s in the kit, to those who may need them.

“We’re about to take a bunch to Portland, to some of the New Mainers who don’t have access to the resources to go buy the fabric,” Calvin said, “and we’ll be able to give them a big armload of fabric so they can sew.”

The effort “has been really good for the community, because a lot of people have been able to participate in helping,” she said.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer at MaineHealth and former head of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Protection, expressed gratitude to the many people undertaking mask-making missions. The masks she wears were made for her by people she knows.

N95 masks worn by healthcare workers do “the best job of protecting other people, as well as the wearer,” Mills said. Cloth coverings, on the other hand, are “primarily worn to protect others,” she said. “They may protect the wearer as well, but that’s really up in the air; we don’t fully know.”

The are many indications that the masks “do help to reduce spread, particularly if everybody’s wearing them,” Mills said. Adding layers of different types of fabric to that cloth, such as 200-thread cotton, a layer of silk, or even a coffee filter, “there’s evidence that they tend to protect more.”

Since viral droplets can soak through the cloth, it’s important not to touch the fabric; masks should be handled by the ties that go around the ears, Mills said. She encouraged staying 6 feet apart from non-household members in public settings, even when all involved are wearing masks.

Mask wearing is something everyone will have to get used to as long as the pandemic continues, Mills said. Having worn masks all day herself during her career in health care, she noted that while they can feel odd at first, perhaps like someone wearing glasses for the first time, one gets used to them.

In noting the importance of wearing masks in public settings  – as mandated by Gov.  Janet Mills’ April 30 executive order – Calvin recalled being at a grocery store recently where all but one person wore the covering.

“I told my husband, ‘I wonder, how does that person feel, that they are the only person in the store that doesn’t have a mask on?’ … You just wonder, why do they think they’re so special, that they don’t have to obey the rules? It’s very disappointing.”

Masks should “absolutely” be worn by everyone in such settings, Mills said. Wearing them is “a symbol of being courteous to people whom we may encounter. … When we wear them, we’re doing our job protecting other people in our community from this.”

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