The Bergen County Mask Task Force: Combating COVID-19 With Sewing Machines

Of the many issues that have risen out of the COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival in the US, one of the most pressing has been the severe shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available to our medical professionals on the front lines. Excessive hoarding and general supply shortages have deprived nurses, doctors, and other emergency personnel alike of an essential, lightweight shield against infection: masks.

In response, many concerned citizens around the country are pitching in to alleviate this strain, sewing masks right out of their own homes to help out hospitals in need. One such group is based in our very own vicinity: the Bergen County Mask Task Force, composed of New Jerseyans around the county who are dedicating their time and effort to maximize our regional mask supply.

To give us more background on the Bergen County Mask Task Force, I reached out to Christine Beidel — a local mask-sewing savior and one of the group’s founders:

To start, if you’d like, can you provide our readers with a brief background on yourself?

I am Christine Beidel and I’ve lived in Rutherford since 2001. I’m a background actress who has been working on tv shows and movies around NYC/NJ for the past two years and I am currently unable to work because all the productions are shut down. I’ve also been a costumer for a long time and work on shows at Bergen County Academies. So when we heard, very early on, that fabric masks were needed, it was a great mission for me to use my talent with a sewing machine to give back.

What exactly is the Bergen County Mask Task Force? What do they do? How many people are involved in it?  

We are a group of people based in and around Bergen County who want to provide washable fabric masks to healthcare workers around Bergen County and NYC. Our Facebook page is being followed by over nearly 1,000 people and there are at least 50 people actively involved sewing and transporting the masks.”

Who are the main “founders” of the Task Force? How did it start?

The founders are Victoria Pero, Clori Osso, Vicky Green, Janet Hughes and myself [Christine Beidel]. We started it around March 15 when the quarantine was starting and we realized there was a need for masks for medical professionals around the county.

How do I become involved with the Task Force?

Please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @BergenMaskTaskForce. Our Facebook page has a helpful instructional video on making the masks.”

Can you tell me about the events that the Task Force typically partakes in?

In this age of social distancing, we have several people who drive around the county picking up completed masks and dropping off supplies. Here in Rutherford, there are about five women very committed to the cause who make upwards of two dozen masks each every other day or so. Today, Karen Masullo was bringing me her masks and along the way she picked up what Katie Pippin and Melissa McCarthy made over the last two days and dropped them with me for the county pickup by Clori Osso. Clori will also bring me fresh supplies that I can then distribute around town. We are very careful about what we touch and where we leave things and we don’t get close!

How can I sew a mask?

Please visit the video we have on our Facebook page. You need two layers of prewashed and dried tightly woven COTTON material. Preferably two different ones so the inside and outside of the mask can be differentiated. You also need elastic or twill/binding tape for ties and a small piece of flexible wire for around the bridge of the nose. All of the instructions are written out and available on the page.

Are there any sewing tips or tricks that you’d recommend to volunteers?

I’d say to be careful to follow the instructions carefully and that the pleats will be tricky the first few times, but you’ll catch on! Perfection isn’t necessary but do trim off all the little threads!

What if I don’t own a sewing machine/don’t know how to sew? Is there another way I can get involved in the Task Force?

We can provide sewing machines if you’d like to borrow one—not many, but some! and if you don’t sew, please sign up to just cut out the fabric rectangles and elastic bands. Or contact us about donations of materials. My friend, Nora Fried, really wanted to help and she ordered thread for me, and that’s a massive help! I’ll share it all over the county!

Where can I get the supplies to make a mask if I don’t already have them? How can I stay safe when getting those supplies?

“You can contact me or Clori Osso on our Facebook page. We can make a bag of supplies for you and drop them on a porch or stoop or they can be picked up from a variety of locations depending on where you live. We are here to facilitate mask making and are happy to work with you to help get you started.”

How long does it typically take you to sew a mask?

At first it took about 15-20 minutes per mask. I have it down to about 11-12 minutes now from start to finish but I’ve made over 125! Practice makes you faster!”

Where do the homemade masks go?

So I like to describe them as duvet covers for the N95 masks. They are certainly not made to substitute for the official medical masks, but they can extend the life of one of those masks. We have already distributed over 1,400 masks to hospitals from Hackensack University Medical Center to Holy Name to Montefiore in the Bronx and Sloan Kettering in Manhattan.

How long does a homemade mask keep a medical official protected? How do the homemade masks compare to medical-grade PPE?

As I said, the medical masks are in no way a substitute for a medical grade N95 mask, but they can offer an extra barrier and extend the life of that most important mask. And I guess I’d also say that they’re a little friendlier and have more personality than the plain masks. The materials we’ve used vary from leftover Harry Potter [Hogwarts] houses to Hello Kitty to Pokemon to daisies and polka dots.

Are there any issues that the Task Force itself is facing right now? How can we help?

Right now it seems the entire country is involved in this same effort so it’s very hard to find some supplies. We use a lot of quarter inch elastic, but that is back ordered all over the internet. We are now moving to twill tape for tying the masks behind the head instead of behind the ears, and that’s also sold out in a lot of places.

Are there any specific ways in which people can help out the Task Force? Other ways to take action against the pandemic that we’re facing? 

People can help us most by spreading the word about us on social media! It sounds like just a little thing, but it really will help! Send all your friends the Instagram page and ask them to send it to their friends and to alert their coworkers, friends, families and communities about it. Thank you!

What makes the Mask Task Force and its work so important?

Our medical professionals do not have all the equipment they need at this time so we are providing them with an extra barrier against the virus. I think it’s also a concrete way for them to see how many people support them and care about what they are doing. A little piece of fabric is really a gigantic thank you hug for their service on the front line of this pandemic.

For more information about the Bergen County Mask Task Force, visit their Facebook and Instagram pages: @BergenMaskTaskForce.

This interview was conducted by Cailin Lansang, a Digital Media Intern for Meadowlands Media. She is currently a senior at Bergen County Technical High School in Teterboro, majoring in Digital Media, and will be attending Columbia University this fall as a prospective English major. She can be contacted at cailin.lansang@yahoo.com. 

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