As the demand for face masks increases, more volunteers are coming together to bolster local supplies.

The Grove City-based Stitch Brigade was created by Yvonne English after she learned that two of her Grove City College co-workers, Jennifer Gilliland and Lois Johnson, were sewing masks to help with a shortage in eastern Ohio.

“I dusted off my grandmother’s 30-year-old sewing machine and started making masks to help,” English said via email.

She soon wondered if there was a similar shortage in the Grove City area, and she found out that the need is overwhelming in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

English has experience with commercial and nonprofit startups, so she knew that she had to move quickly.

She is the executive director of The Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation at Grove City College, where she is also an assistant professor with the entrepreneurship department.

She set up a fund for the Stitch Brigade under the Grove City Foundation, which is affiliated with the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.

That means monetary donations are tax-deductible, and they are eligible for grants.

Other GCC employees are part of the group, including Stitch Brigade co-founder Lynn Stillwaggon, who is the program manager for The Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation.

Stillwaggon helped English get things started, and there are now 37 volunteers using their talents to serve others.

English provided the initial funding, and donations started coming in as soon as word spread about the Stitch Brigade.

Community members also donated material, and the grove City Foundation made a contribution – that’s very helpful because the group receives daily requests for masks, English said.

“From nursing homes to health care facilities to first responders and frontline workers, the need is great,” she said.

Volunteers’ tasks include stitching, cutting, driving and marketing.

Some materials are hard to obtain because so many people across the country are making masks. The Stitch Brigade is buying material where they can and they rely on fabric donations of 100 percent cotton, English said. 

They’ve made nearly 250 masks so far, and they’ve been donated to local nursing homes, hospitals, nonprofits, and individuals who work in healthcare or emergency services.

They’ve also sent masks to a nurse in New Jersey who works in a COVID-19 hospital wing, an EMT unit in Virginia, and a fire department in North Carolina.

More volunteers are welcome to join the Stitch Brigade, which needs stitchers, people to cut fabric, drivers to pick up and deliver materials and masks, marketers to recruit volunteers and look for fabric donations, and donors to help buy materials.

For those making the masks, they are advised to use one of the patterns on the Stitch Brigade website: www.StitchBrigade.org

There are instructional videos, and the material should be 100 percent cotton with a tight weave, English said.

People who need masks can make a request through the website. Right now, the masks are designated for first responders, frontline workers, nursing homes, hospitals and healthcare facilities.

The feedback from mask recipients about this blessing has been incredible, and there have been many tears.

Gail Staud, admission coordinator for Grove Manor in Grove City, sent a note thanking the Stitch Brigade for a donation of masks.

Staud wrote that the support during this dark time is appreciated, and that the volunteers “will all wear a halo someday for the donation of your time and talents.”

“The deep emotional response to what we are doing has surprised me the most. I think that people are really touched that others would volunteer to help strangers during this chaotic time,” English said.

For more information about the Stitch Brigade or to make a donation, visit www.StitchBrigade.org

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