LONG ISLAND, NY — A Long Island couple has found a way to bring people together for a good cause as the new coronavirus forces folks to isolate and separate. After hearing the news of the mask shortage in the state, Peter Graber and his wife, Christine, decided to find a way to provide homemade masks to people who need some extra protection.
Christine Graber got the idea to make the masks from her sister, who began making them for her community in California about two weeks prior. After seeing how her sister has helped people, she wanted to do something similar on the island. When she couldn't find a specific group of people, she and Peter reached out on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to help.
After receiving several replies, the couple created the Facebook group Stitched Together Long Island to help manage volunteers who want to do good in their communities. Just five days after creating the group, they received more than 300 volunteers and countless order requests.
Through the group, the Grabers help organize volunteers who either make masks at home, donate materials or deliver masks to groups in need. They also receive requests of who might need to masks through the page and determine how many masks are needed. So far, the group has helped create at least 200 masks for at least 10 different organizations, such as hospitals, senior facilities and doctors offices across Long Island. They even donated to a family whose child was recently diagnosed with cancer. That's not including the two sub-groups making masks solely for the NYPD and Stony Brook Hospital. The Grabers said they are willing to donate to whoever needs supplies and are open to any suggestions for places in need.
To make masks, volunteers use breathable materials such as a bed sheets or pillow cases, elastics and a sewing machine. The page has several how-to video tutorials for those interested in learning.
Christine Graber looked up online instructions on how to make these masks using the Cambridge Mask Co. She acknowledged the masks have a about a 50 percent effectiveness rate in protecting against the disease, but said for some, that's their only option.
"Some people told us they got a memo asking them to a bandanna to cover their face," she told Patch. "There are doctors and nurses putting surgical masks under the masks we make to keep it cleaner longer because they only have one mask they have to keep using."
Earlier this week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is about 10 days away from running out of fundamental medical supplies. New York needs three million N95 masks and 50 million surgical masks, he said.
"One hospital told us that when it comes to masks, it's every man for himself," Peter Graber said. "So if we can help out just a little, that's enough for us."
Luckily, the masks made by this group can all be hand washed and reused. In addition, Christine Graber puts each order in a bag and sprays them with 70 percent rubbing alcohol, just as an extra precaution. While there's no specific goal the couple is trying to reach, they are working on donating as much as they can, for as long as they can.
"We hope we reach a point in this country where we won't need to make them at all," Peter said. "But for now we are taking it as it comes as requests come in and have the volunteers can fill out as many orders as they can."
All photos courtesy of Christine Graber