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50 local women, almost 3,000 masks

On March 20, my eldest son Spencer was taken by ambulance to Mount Sinai Hospital in Brooklyn. He was a victim of COVID-19. As a mother, so far from him here in Saranac Lake, I cried a lot. I found comfort in the trees and in the forest, like I always do. But I had no way to help the health care workers who were working to save my son. That was when I heard my Dad’s voice in my head saying, “The antidote to depression is action.”

It was about that time that I heard from Pat Banker. She told me a mask-making effort had started. The journey from that day led me to a remarkable place. It has been my honor to work with over 50 local women who have made close to 3,000 masks for front-line health care workers and for those who care for others in our region.

This letter of gratitude also includes deep thanks to many other mask makers in our region who stepped forward very early on to say, “Me! I can help!” They are all equally important to the safety of our community and a testament to the spirit of the Tri-Lakes in times of need. I have spoken to women from Peru to Plattsburgh to Malone and Canton. We are #NYTough. We should all be proud.

It was fortuitous that my unusual skill sets were coming together to do something beneficial and helpful for the place I love: I could sew, I could illustrate the instructions for the masks, I could make macaroons for the mask kits (always good to have an incentive!), I was comfortable talking on camera every few days to our Facebook group, and I could wrangle people and try to make it all fun.

But mostly, I could pick a great team. I can’t thank enough Susan Waters, Lindy Ellis and Lynne Kemp who put up with me, helped design and redesign mask patterns, who held it all together, remembered what I couldn’t and kept track of everything.

The oddest thing about this effort is that I’ve only seen some of the women who are sewing. I don’t know them, except for their heroic commitment to doing the right thing. One of the things I worry about is not being able to recognize them when this is all over. I really want to give them a hug.

I have a green bin in front of my studio where I have left mask kits and where our Makers (we are the “Tri-Lakes Community Makers”) have left sweets, words of encouragement and occasional checks. Rarely do I catch a glimpse of them … and when I do, they always have masks on.

It’s hard to describe the overwhelming kinship I feel these for women. It’s not everyone who steps up. Those that are called to help when others need it are not ordinary people. They are why our civilization has prospered. They are the helpers. 

I am happy to be a helper, and I know all the other mask makers in the Tri-Lakes are too.

I want to direct a special thanks to Dr. Alison Flanigan of Lake Placid Animal Hospital for her idea about using N99 surgical draping in our masks. With her generous donation of the material, we started making masks for our community front-liners who had a layer of Alison’s N99 material sandwiched between cotton layers. It made our masks pretty superhero-like.

There are so many others who donated supplies, lent sewing machines, gave hotel sheets, ran errands and offered whatever support they could. I know I speak for my team when I thank everyone that has helped us do this life-affirming work, in a time when we felt adrift and helpless. We will always be ready when the next one comes around. The following women deserve recognition: Cindy Barge, Geri Bebernitz, Christine Schroeder Jarecki Bettner, Cindy Bisson, Amanda Buck, Sue Cameron, Dellice Chase, Diane Chase, Joy and Summer Cranker, Glenn Mary Colby, Cheryl Culotta, Jenny Curtis, Karen Davidson, Helen Demong, Charlann Duffy, Donna Edgley, Lindy Ellis, Denise Erenstone, Debbie Erenstone, Emily Foppert, Kathy Ford, Darcy Friebel, Susan Friedmann, Cindy Gallagher, Michale Glennon, Michalene Glennon, Karen Graff, Cindy Grau, Heidi Hess Griffeth, Caroline Hambley, Debbie Harrison, Lynn Hart, Joyce Henklein, Corey Iaria Purcell, Susan Keiffer, Lynne Kemp, Jessica Kemp, Laura Kinney, Amber McKernan, Judith Meagher, Diane Minutilli, Susan Moody, Jennifer Newhart, Gina Norton, Carol Nye, Peggy Orman, Susan Hogan Parker, Linda Ramirez, Gretchen Reid, Heidi Roland, Hillary Ryan, Debra Schmidt, Normajean Smith, Linda Tarantelli, Martha Thomas, Kate Thompson, Gerri Torrance, Judith Vaughn, Julie Walsh, Susan Waters, Martha Watts, Holly Wolff, Fran Yardley and Lynn Zuliani.

Be well, be smart. Better days are coming.

Gail Brill lives in Saranac Lake.

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