By Jennifer Powell

As the COVID-19 Pandemic unfolded, routines were disrupted at the Brigham House while caregivers at the assisted living facility took drastic measures to protect the residents.

Visitors were not allowed. Meals were served in individual rooms rather than the communal dining room. The lively group activities were suspended. 

The measures had an effect and the facility has, so far, had no cases of the disease. But it has been stressful for staff who stepped up to provide medical care and the extra attention that family and friends couldn’t provide.

Even as restrictions eased, however, residents were still largely in isolation because they didn’t have face masks. Then they got a call from a member of Park Street Church.

Church members had been making personal protection equipment and wanted to know if there was a need. Executive Director Maria Barbosa-Santos mentioned the lack of face masks. That request was passed on to the church’s Covid Rapid Response Face Mask Team. Within a week, the facility had enough face masks for each resident to have one to wear and one to wash.

“It means so much to the staff and the residents,” Maria said. “Everyone has been working so hard to keep everyone safe, but it’s been difficult. Being able to get people out of their rooms and spending time together will make a tremendous difference.”

With face masks, the residents have been able to have short visits with friends and family.

The Park Street Face Mask team has made more than 5,000 face masks and shared them with assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and organizations serving people in need including St. Francis House, Rosie’s Place, the Pine Street Inn, and Park Street’s Thursday Night Outreach program.

The Fenway Development Corp. has been distributing the Park Street masks through the Fair Foods Fenway site and hopes to distribute more when it opens another Fair Foods site in the South End/Lower Roxbury later this year. The Fair Foods provides bags of produce to community residents, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet. On average, the group provides 125 bags a week serving about 250 people.

Executive Director Leah Camhi, expressed the group’s appreciation in an email:

This is such a beautiful collection and so many too. I was surprised to see all of the others that had been made for other organizations when I picked up the bag this morning. What an incredible gift that your church is giving to the community…..actually, these masks are the gift of life and we are so very grateful.

The people who make the face masks generally don’t get to meet the people who wear them or even the people who help distribute them. They make them in batches of 20 to over 100 and send them off to the church where someone else will pick them up and drop them with the groups in need. But they are driven by a desire to demonstrate God’s love for those in Greater Boston.

Helen Layman had a sewing machine she barely used until she heard about the need for masks,

“When the pandemic hit, I wanted to do something to help. But I have two high-risk family members, which limited my ability to participate in many opportunities. Making masks was something I could do mostly from home to help,” she said. 

She said she is amazed at how many she gets done every week. It’s like loaves and fishes, she says. The masks just seem to multiply to fit the need.

The team includes nearly 15 people who are sewing and helping to deliver the face masks. They use a variety of patterns including some with elastic that go behind the ears and others that tie around the head. They most often provide the fabric and other supplies themselves, but donations are always appreciated, especially fabric and elastic, which is harder to come by.

Jooe Kim got involved because of feeling helpless at home seeing such a great need. 

 “I first started making masks at the end of March. During that time, there was a tremendous shortage of PPE. I wanted to do something to help, but felt helpless stuck at home.”

“At a small group meeting, one of my friends mentioned that hospitals were asking for homemade cloth masks. I couldn’t believe it. This just happened to be a small skill that I had,” she said. “It’s been humbling and a blessing, to have an opportunity to contribute something in this way. I’m so thankful to God.”

It’s been a blessing, she said, not only to be able to contribute but also to be a part of a team that is striving together.

The hope and goal is that in addition to caring for individuals by providing them with the masks, long-lasting connections can be made with those in the community through the demonstration of God’s love.

The batches of masks are sent out with a note of caring and support and this verse: 

Psalm 9:9 “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed; a stronghold in times of trouble”.

To join the team please go to: https://www.parkstreet.org/cityengagement/facemasks/
To make a donation please go to: https://secure.accessacs.com/access/oglogin.aspx?sn=11351
To share a need, please email [email protected]