Project provides face masks for Sussex students

Volunteer sewers through Sussex County Volunteer Delaware 50+ are pictured at the delivery of masks to the Cape Henlopen School District. From left, Jan Semmel, Hilda Chaski Adams, Donna Bailey, Mary Ann Gritmon, Rita Gilbert, Cape Superintendent Rob Fulton, Cape Assistant Superintendent Jenny Nauman, Cape Administrative Assistant Kristi Marsh, Sally Powell , Meg McIntire, Kim Ostroski and Kathy Herman. (Submitted photo)

SUSSEX COUNTY — A huge voluntary effort is putting protective masks on the faces of students attending schools in coastal Delaware and Western Sussex County.

Cape Henlopen School District and Sussex Montessori School on Sept. 9 received their first batch of hand-sewn face masks made through the Volunteer Delaware Face Mask Project, which initially was launched in March in response to a mask shortage for health care workers with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is an amazing group of volunteers,” said Hilda Adams, spokeswoman for the Volunteer Delaware Face Mask Project.

The Sussex Montessori School, which opened Sept. 14 for students in grades kindergarten through third with both hybrid and remote learning, received 641 masks for the children. Stitchers from the Sawgrass Plantation neighborhood in Dagsboro made 140 masks for adult staff at Montessori.

Montessori opted for uniform masks for all students and staff and provided the materials to make them.

Pictured is a sampling of finished products undertaken in a mask-making project sponsored by Volunteer Delaware 50+ that supplied masks for students and staff in the Cape Henlopen School District. (Submitted photo)

“They’re all green, like our school colors,” said Sussex Montessori School community engagement specialist Kaneisha Trott.

For the Cape Henlopen School District, 587 masks in different colors and designs were sewn in several sizes to fit students from Pre-K through high school. This project sought fabric suitable for the different age groups, resulting in face masks that are appealing to children and thus more likely to be worn consistently.

The district is distributing the masks as needed.

“We are so grateful for our talented and generous community,” Cape Henlopen Assistant Superintendent Jenny Nauman said. “These masks will be helpful as backups in our schools and are very much appreciated.”

The mask-making began when volunteer Jan Semmel saw a story on television about a similar group in Georgia and suggested the Volunteer Delaware 50+ Lower Delaware Duffel Bag project tap its volunteers to sew face masks in Sussex County.

The small army of 93 volunteers had made over 7,000 masks for health care workers at Beebe and Nanticoke hospitals, Sussex County EMS, the homeless, nursing homes and for other essential workers, Ms. Adams said.

On hand for the delivery of green masks to Sussex Montessori School in Seaford, from left, Hilda Chaski Adams, Jan Semmel, Mary Ann Gritmon, Kim Ostroski, Meg McIntire, Kathy Herman and Rita Gilbert. (Submitted photo)

After that need was met, the group took the summer off, but volunteers are now back sewing face masks for school children.

“We find volunteers by word of mouth. That is how we have gotten more, by word of mouth. It is an amazing group of volunteers,” said Ms. Adams. “The whole thing really got started maybe two years ago, that we started making duffel bags for kids being taken into foster care. We make about 500 duffel bags a year.”

Ann Gorrin, Volunteer Delaware 50+ program manager for Sussex County, said, “Sussex County is a vibrant area, with so many individuals sharing their time and talents for others. It’s wonderful to see another community need met by these volunteers.”

The projects are sponsored by the Sussex County’s Volunteer Delaware 50+ Advisory Council Inc., a 501 (c) organization. Donations from individuals support the project.

“The council is pleased to be a part of such worthwhile projects and admires the volunteers who have made them so successful,” said Advisory Council Chair Pat Senkowski.

Precautions are taken during the pandemic for volunteers. Material and elastic are placed on porches of volunteers, who make the masks and bring them back, Ms. Adams said.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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