Jill Hays, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Supervisor at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), received the first pleas for home-sewn face masks from her daughter and daughter-in-law—both nurses working in Pennsylvania in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
From her home sewing room, Hays stitched about 25 masks for her daughter to share with her colleagues at Pittsburgh’s UPMC St. Margaret Hospital, throwing in ten more child-sized masks for good measure. She fabricated another fifteen, including kid sizes, for her daughter-in-law, who works at Scenery Hill Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Indiana, Pennsylvania.
Once she realized the real scale of the need for even non-medical grade face masks, Hays decided to further dedicate her time and skills to provide masks for those without access to personal protective equipment. “I put out a message on Facebook telling people that regardless of their circumstances that I would make them masks. All they had to do was to send me a message,” Hays said.
The orders poured in and, to date, she has sewn over 600 masks, sending them for free, from coast to coast and mostly to strangers who reached out to her online. She includes a little note recommending that recipients wash their masks before wearing them. Some folks send her donations to help cover shipping and the cost of materials, including a $200 contribution from one woman from Bethesda, Maryland, to whom she’d mailed a mere two masks.
How has a senior TSA officer managed to single-handedly fulfill all of these requests? Hays originally had a week-long vacation scheduled in April, which she was forced to cancel because of the pandemic. Instead, she spent her time off sewing for six to eight hours each day. “It kept me focused on something positive and away from watching the depressing news about the coronavirus all day long.”
So far, her largest order has been for 60 masks from nurses at a Florida hospital. Another nurses’ association requested a bundle of 40. Hays said she frequently gets thank-you notes for her efforts, often accompanied by photos of recipients modeling their new coronavirus couture.
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