Local Seamstress Makes Face Masks To Help During COVID-19 Pandemic

April 5, 2020
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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March 2020 has brought widespread uncertainty and worldwide unrest with the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the healthcare crisis, hospitals in several countries are running out of supplies — and small businesses everywhere are worried about their future. With the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s recommendations of social distancing and cities issuing stay at home orders, these are difficult times for everyone.

Enter Holly Balmer, a local seamstress and owner of Seamstress HollyAnn, in Port Orange, Florida. For more than a decade, she has been running her shop doing customized tailoring, bridal alterations, and tuxedo rentals, to name a few. When March 2020 started, she began to wonder how she could do her part as a responsible citizen and keep her business afloat. As if by providence, she received an unexpected phone call from Care Options for Kids. She recalls that initial conversation.

“They asked me if I would be able to make face masks for their company,” Holly states, incredulity still in her voice. “I have been doing formal wear for so long. It’s been our family business forever. But I had never made a face mask,” she remembers. “Then again, I thought, how hard could it be?

Care Options for Kids asked for 1,500 face masks and Holly agreed to make them. She sat down to do research and sent prototypes to Care Options for Kids. Once she received approval, she and her father both sat down at their sewing machines and got to work. “We’ve been doing face masks all day, every day. We only have our sewing machines, and it’s just the two of us, so we can make about 500 face masks a week.”

This new approach to obtaining masks is not only creative, but it’s practical — unlike traditional masks, the ones created by Holly and her father are washable. Therefore, Care Options for Kids won’t have to worry about running out of masks again once the first batch has been used.

This surprising twist of fate has amazed Holly. “Never in a million years would I have thought that I would end up making face masks,” she shares. “But this has been wonderful. I’m able to help the healthcare community and at the same time, it has helped to keep my business open.” She’s also clear on what’s important right now. “I’ve contacted all of my regular clients to explain that this has priority at the moment, so any alterations will have to wait.” Her customers have been understanding of the delay in regular services. “At the end of the day, most of what I normally do is centered around big events — weddings, proms, pageants — and all of them have been postponed or canceled. Plus, healthcare is an essential service, so I’m glad to do this.”

Despite everything that’s going on, Holly’s confident that her business will pick up again in the fall. “Brides have all pushed back their weddings for a few months, and I know it will be a busy time then.” She also feels thankful she’s able to give back to the community. When she finished her first batch of face masks, she posted a picture on Facebook — and the post went viral. So now she has an inbox full of healthcare professionals, as well as regular individuals, requesting face masks, too.

“Care Options for Kids is my priority at the moment. But when I’m done, I’d like to make masks for people who are sick and can’t find — or can’t afford — to buy masks,” she concludes. “After all, we’re all in this together”.

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