Community mask makers win Compassion-in-Action for helping CRMC

Margaret Austin, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne
·4 min read

Mar. 13—CHEYENNE — At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last March, personal protective equipment was in high demand and low supply — so much so that Cheyenne Regional Medical Center was in need of masks for both staff and patients.

"We have over 2,000 employees that see hundreds of people a day," CRMC Foundation Director Scott Fox said. "And suddenly, we say everyone needs to wear a mask."

As folks across the country came together to create DIY cloth masks to donate, Around the Block Quilt Shop owner Barb Boyer and aspiring Eagle Scout Lucas Sutphin felt called to step up and help locally.

After enlisting family members, friends, customers and people in the community who just wanted to make a difference, the pair ended up driving the creation and donation of more than 5,000 masks to the hospital.

Sutphin and Boyer operated separately in their mask-making endeavors — with Boyer channeling the quilting community and Sutphin enlisting help through a website he created — but they were both working toward the same goal.

For those efforts and the assistance they provided CRMC in a time of need, Sutphin and Boyer earned Compassionate Cheyenne's 22nd and 23rd Compassion-in-Action awards this week at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. The volunteers who helped them make masks were also recognized for their efforts, though too many people pitched in to identify every individual who helped.

Fox said, "Every morning I came in, and we'd have a big donation box on our foundation porch. Every morning, there was a new bag of masks. And by the way, I'm not talking about five or 10 or 12, (it was) 75, 100, 150. ... Because of Barb, Lucas and this broad team of people across the community that (they) motivated, energized and helped — we were able to, every day, help people be safe, whether it was caregivers at Cheyenne Regional, visitors or patients coming in."

It's that kind of thoughtfulness turned into action that Compassionate Cheyenne recognizes with these awards, with the hope that the stories of people like Boyer and Sutphin will inspire others in the community to live more compassionately. Each Compassion-in-Action award winner also receives $100 from the Sunrise Rotary Club.

"Part of what we do with Compassionate Cheyenne is identify where compassion is alive," Compassionate Cheyenne's Rev. Rick Veit said.

"What we've discovered is when we open our eyes, it's going on everywhere."

For Boyer, the vision to make much-needed masks perfectly aligned with the inventory at her shop. She started cutting fabric on a Friday for mask kits, which each came with the materials to make five masks, and put the word out on her newsletter. The idea was that folks would pick up the kits from the front of her shop, sew them up and bring them back for Boyer to donate.

"By Saturday morning, all the mask kits were gone," Boyer said.

Ultimately, Boyer and her network of volunteers made more than 6,000 masks, which were given to CRMC and other places in need like nursing homes and fire stations.

"Without doing the masks, it would have been a lot harder for (Around the Block Quilt Shop) to stay open. And so in that sense, it gave us a purpose," Boyer said.

For Sutphin, a high school sophomore, the idea to make masks came out of a brainstorming session with his mom, Linnaea, looking at what service project he should do on his path to becoming an Eagle Scout. He called up the hospital, and the project took off from there.

Sutphin set up a website where volunteers could sign up to donate supplies and help with the mask making, which he initially thought would only include some family and friends.

"It blew my mind how many people were willing to help with it," Sutphin said.

Altogether, Sutphin and his network of helpers made more than 1,000 masks for CRMC. He said it was cool to see people around the community and CRMC wearing the masks he helped make.

For the rest of his family, the mask-making effort was a way to keep busy during the initial shutdown, while doing something that made a difference.

"It really did help us all, the whole family, to not focus on the negative, and it gave us something to do," Linnaea said. "That's what I noticed with other people, too; they were just so happy to have something to do, because I think we all felt kind of helpless."

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.