“Stitching” together to help first responders

State Representative Tracy Estes, center, receives a donation of 250 face masks made by local volunteers. The masks will be given to area first responders. From l-r: Pam Smith, Larry Gillentine, Frances Gillentine, Estes, Barbara Bishop, Rodney Fike and Sharon Fike. (Courtesy photo)

DOUBLE SPRINGS - ”Stitching” together in this trying time of pandemic, there is a group aiming to help make life easier for others.
Sharon Fike, of Double Springs, got the idea to help make face masks to give to first responders in the area. State Representative Tracy Estes will be distributing them amongst Winston and Marion counties.
Fike started a Facebook group called Winston County -  Project Face Masks. She explained that a friend in northeast Alabama has a daughter who is a registered nurse and was upset because they did not have any face masks. After doing research, the nurse found patterns for face masks from the Centers for Disease Control.
“I have relatives who are first responders, of all places, of New York state,” Fike said. “I know the face masks are critical, so I called Representative Estes.”
Estes said there was a definite need in the area and began working on the logistics of giving out the masks.
“It appears here in Winston County the need is for our volunteer firefighters and rescue squads,” Fike said.
There is an ongoing controversy regarding the kind of face masks Fike is making, essentially whether or not they are effective. According to some, N95 masks are what is needed for healthcare workers.
“An N95 is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles,” an article by the Food and Drug Administration stated. However, the article also said N95 masks were not for use by the public.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including coronavirus (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. For the general American public, there is no added health benefit to wear a respiratory protective device.”
“Personally, if someone was responding to my need, whether it was the coronavirus or a broken leg, no matter what it was, I would feel a whole lot better if they came at me with a mask on than without one. It would make me feel so much more protected,” Fike said. “But if they don’t have them, they don’t have them.”
The masks she and her husband, Rodney, have made are 100 percent cotton with flannel backing, providing four layers of protection. They are steamed for sterilization once completed and can be reused after resterilizing. Each mask uses seven inches of elastic.
“I remember a time in hospitals when there wasn’t disposable anything,” Sharon explained. “They had cloth masks, hairnets, gowns. It wasn’t that long ago when we started going to everything disposable.”
Wal-Mart in Haleyville donated a $25 gift certificate to help the Fikes with expenses on raw material used to make the masks.
“We matched that,” Sharon said. “If anybody needs material, just let me know, and we will get the material. We will do whatever it takes if somebody is interested in helping.”
She also added she has how-to videos on making the masks.
“I partnered with my friend in northeast Alabama, and she sent the patterns,” Sharon continued. “They are straight from the CDC. Also, if it gets to the point where we need them, I can make some that have the pockets and pouches for the N95 filters.”
It takes approximately 10 minutes to make one mask, with three areas to work on: cutting, pinning and sewing.
In the meantime, several have been praising Estes’ efforts in helping Northwest Alabama through this pandemic.
“We are so lucky to have him,” Sharon said.
James Garrison, president of the Winston County Fire Fighters Association, agrees with her.
“He has already provided the Winston County firefighters with masks, gloves and support. Never have I seen our elected officials work to help us like they are now. Tracy Estes is a great example of a public servant.”
“I’m not the only one doing this,” Sharon said. “If we could get a bunch of people cutting or sewing and a central place to drop (the masks for pick up), that’s what I’m trying to coordinate. I need people to contact me and let me know if they are willing to help.”
Some of those stepping up include one group who helped the Fikes complete their goal of making 250 face masks, which were all made last week. They are Barbara Bishop, Pam Smith and Frances and Larry Gillentine.
“We enjoy doing it, working together,” Frances stated.
“We are blessed to be in a part of this county that is so giving and helpful in this time of uncertainty,” Garrison continued. “The county has provided us with over one hundred masks per fire department and even some hazmat suits. If we feel we need to use them, they are available.”
Helpers are urged to join the Facebook group to contact Sharon.


See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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