This is a tale about two widowed sisters, who, because of the COVID-19 pandemic became heroines in and beyond their community.
Linda Martin and Ann Wakefield live about a half mile apart in Chattahoochee.
Linda has two children and two grandchildren and is hoping for more. Ann has three children, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
When the pandemic began in 2020, these two sisters had three other siblings, who worked in jobs requiring masks, and though employers were supposed to provide them, there were just not enough to go around. Sometimes masks had to be worn for three days.
Linda pitched in and began sewing masks for her siblings.
Soon other employees in these institutions began requesting masks also, and soon Linda could not keep up with all of the requests for masks, and Ann joined the effort – not as a sewer, but as a cutter.
They were soon making masks for their siblings, their co-workers and for the local community. The masks were free (but many people made donations) and locally were given away each Friday from March 2020 until April 2021.
The following interview was with Linda, with input from Ann.
QUESTION: Were either of you seamstresses or had you done a lot of sewing before this?
ANSWER: “The answer is no and yes. Neither of us were seamstresses. I was a professor of Occupational Therapy for 38 and a half years and Ann graduated from Florida A&M University in Social Services, working for the state in various capacities including many investigations. She was a very good investigator. She was a volunteer for the Ombudsman Program. We both sewed domestically, but for me I’d been sewing since I was in seventh grade and took Home Economics. It was a necessity. I was very tall and very thin and could not get clothes to fit me. My mother made them for me until I learned to sew and then I began making some clothes that fit me.”
QUESTION: Where did you get the pattern for the masks?
ANSWER: “I looked it up online. There was just one size and we soon found out that one size does not fit all. There were no children’s masks in the beginning so we experimented and in the end we had six different sizes- from age 3 to extra large, which could be worn by a man with a full beard.”
QUESTION: It must have taken a lot of material to make so many masks. Where did you get it all?
ANSWER: “Our masks are very safe because they have three layers (the middle one is fiber) and we did make so many we used quite a bit of material. At first we used scraps. We had some donated, but mostly I bought it from places like Walmart and Joanne’s Fabrics. I tried to find cute prints that would appeal to people. We bought nose pieces and elastic from Amazon.”
QUESTION: Where did you give the masks out?
ANSWER: “We put up a sun tent in an abandoned IGA parking lot. When the lot was sold, we moved to the Recreation Center in Chattahoochee. It was nice to be in a happy place where so many dances and good events had been held. We put out signs around town and the people came.”
QUESTION: How many masks did you give out daily?
ANSWER: “We really didn’t keep count. An estimate would be about 100 a day in the beginning and 2,000 total. Ann goes to church in Quincy and soon folks there also were requesting masks and we accommodated them. Special masks were also requested. At the Recreation Center the number dropped off because we were less visible.”
QUESTION: You also worked with the elementary school in your town. Right?
ANSWER: “Yes, we did. We made masks for all the children and teachers and the principal was happy to have them. We made an extra batch to give out at Christmas for the children. When demand became much less and we stopped the project in April, we gave our extra masks to the school also.”
QUESTION: How does it feel being called heroines?
ANSWER: “We don’t really like it. We did it just to be useful. After all it is our community. We had material and we cut and sewed. It could never have happened if Ann hadn’t joined and done all the cutting. It was not a big deal for us.”
QUESTION: What about the future?
ANSWER: “We’re just trying to get back to normal as much as possible – to more activities such as my bridge games. If there should be a need for masks again in the future, we will make them.”
QUESTION: What has been the best part about this experience?
ANSWER: It was the people. We met a lot of very nice people from all over. Some would be looking out for the elderly or handicapped, who were afraid to come out for the masks themselves, and these surrogates would get them for them. Everyone was always polite and so grateful for such a small thing as a handmade mask. It was also a lot of fun. We had a good time through it all. When Ann began cutting, it was a joy. We would sit together working and chatting and enjoying ourselves. We don’t feel like heroines but we’re proud to have been able to do our little bit to help our own siblings , people in our community and people outside our community through this difficult time.”
Judy Conlin – Mail@gadsdencountynews.com
Photos by Ashley Hunter