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Filling in the gap: Mitchell makes medical masks

By Lisa Tindell

The dangers of working in the healthcare field are usually taken for granted. When a pandemic hits, the realization of just how difficult and how vulnerable those working in the field are becomes more evident.

One local woman, who owns a small business herself, saw a need and did her part to help those who help others.

Kelly Mitchell, owner of Why Not Stitch, decided to put her business of custom monogramming on hold to help in an unusual way.

“I kept seeing people, health care workers say they didn’t have masks,” Mitchell said. “I’ve made close to 125 masks since last Saturday. I’ve tried to take care of all healthcare people and the elderly locally before sending out elsewhere.”

Mitchell said once she got the word out that she was making the masks, requests started coming in from locations near and far.

“I’ve had people from all over the country message me,” Mitchell said. “I have donated the masks to the ladies in the lab at the (Brewton) Medical Center and some of the ladies in radiology at (D.W. McMillan) Hospital. I’ve also given to some of our hometown ladies that work as home health nurses and some who work in the Santa Rosa (Florida) area. I went to school in Excel and have some friends who are nurses in Montgomery so I have sent some to them. I have even mailed some to North Carolina, Oklahoma and Mississippi. I also donated to people like Stacey Till who needed it for a family who has cancer is on chemo. There is so much need locally.”

Mitchell said she has put her business on hold for now as she works to fill the needs for masks as much as she can.

“One may think 125 masks isn’t a lot, but when they take me 30 to 40 minutes per mask, it is,” Mitchell said “I have been using three layers in each mask, as well as adding a small stiff wire in each nose piece and casing out so they would be able to mold the mask for added coverage. Most I’ve seen do not take this step. With each piece of wire I have to bend the ends down so the wire doesn’t poke through the fabric. So, it’s tedious.”

Although Mitchell is doing most of the work on the masks, she said she has had a little help from another member of her family.

“This week was supposed to be our Spring Break, but I kept seeing people say they didn’t have masks,” Mitchell said. “I discussed it with my family and tried to explain to my daughter that I wouldn’t be able to spend time with her this week as we had planned that mom needed to help people right now in this time of crisis. She was upset, but she actually decided to help me in her own way. She has helped with a little sewing, not straight lines, but that made a few unique, and she has helped with cutting out fabric. It’s a big job for such a small little girl. But for the most part it has just been me in between taking care of my three kids.”

Mitchell said getting the needed materials to make the masks hasn’t been a huge problem with the exception of elastic. With few exceptions, Mitchell has taken care of the cost of the project.

“I’ve donated all of my masks,” Mitchell said. “Some have offered donations to help with supplies and shipping because I haven’t charged for shipping to anyone. I’ve shipped to most with the exception of a few who decided to pick up out of my mailbox.”

Mitchell said after she began making the masks and shared the information, other people in the community have joined in the effort.

“Once I started the project and posted, others kind of joined in,” Mitchell said. “We live in such a great community where everyone helps where they can most of the time.”

In addition to Mitchell’s work, Lindsay Lynn and Diane Jonson are also working to fill the need for masks locally.

Along the way, Mitchell said she has learned lessons from those she is working to help.

“I’ve learned fine details are critical as I’ve worked,” Mitchell said. “I started out with pipe cleaners. They work but weren’t what I was looking for so I had to be innovative. Thanks to a nurse friend she made the suggestion of a different type wire and it’s perfect. I feel they give someone decent protection even if they are not CDC compliant.”

Mitchell said she plans to continue working on the masks as long as they are needed and she can find the materials to do the work. Her work is being done in an effort to keep her fellow man safe in a difficult time.

“I want our community as a whole to stay safe,” Mitchell said. “I don’t want to wake up and read COVID-19 has taken over our town and we’ve lost the fight. I’m praying hard for this nightmare to end soon. It’s been a long, hard week, but if it helps just a little, then it’s worth it.”