A Community Comes Together
The outpouring of support during COVID-19 was unprecedented as St. Petersburg came together as a community, reminding us that we were all in this together.
Stories like these offer us hope. And that’s what the Northeast Journal does best. For over a decade, we’ve been delivering good news about people and organizations doing good deeds. Here are few stories we’ve collected over the past few months – stories of how some of our neighbors overcame these challenging times with creativity, commitment and grace.
St. Pete Sews
In mid-March, as TV news anchors started alerting the country about the shortage of masks for healthcare workers in places like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, Janice Chandler and Terri Reid – a Snell Isle resident and global account manager for Cisco – decided to help.
“Terri emailed me and said what do you think, how would you like to make a few masks,” said Janice. “She knew that I sewed and she was willing to buy some material to fund the project. I said, yes, let’s see how we can help locally.”
Janice placed a call to St. Anthony’s Hospital to see if they were interested. Initially, the hospital was a little uncertain, but within a few hours, Janice got a call back. “It was a charge nurse in the ER,” said Janice. “She said we will take everything you can get.”
That was just the start. The next day, Janice posted a notice on Nextdoor asking for help making masks. Several people responded right away. And then the requests started flooding in; the first one from a physician who sent a private message. He desperately wanted masks for his outpatient chemotherapy center in Countryside.
“I said I could make a few – he wanted 78,” said Janice. “On Monday morning, we dropped off some to him at the center, and when we gave some to the patients, they started crying. That was it; we were hooked. We realized we were really making a difference.”
From there, everything began moving quickly. Terri’s daughter Erika set up a Facebook page for the newly organized group: Sewing for St. Pete – Masks for COVID-19. That ramped up requests even more from nursing homes, doctor’s offices, hospitals, medical clinics, early childhood centers, and more. “Little did we know how it would explode,” said Terri. “Every week it was exponentially more.”
Donations were coming in, too. An early GoFundMe campaign generated $1,200 in a day-and-a-half. People were also donating supplies of buttons, thread, bolts of fabric, and spools of elastic. “Special recognition goes to Elizabeth and Tom Bunberry of Answered Prayers, who gave us fabric and elastic, as well as loaned us sewing machines, and to Jill Orobello of Whim So Doodle, who donated fabric,” said Terri.
By now, more than 100 sewing angels had jumped in to help. At first volunteers were doing it all – cutting the material, sewing masks, and adding elastic. But Janice and Terri quickly realized they needed a more efficient system to keep up with the growing number of volunteers and the demand for masks. They organized teams of “sewing angels” and “cutting warriors” – splitting up the tasks depending on skill level. Then they came up with the idea of putting together small kits for each group, placing everything needed in small plastic bags to make it easy for volunteers to take home and get started. They even began coordinating fabrics – front and back – to make sure the completed masks were not only useful, but also attractive.
They also organized pick-up and drop-off boxes – one on the front step of Terri’s home in Snell Isle, and one in Allendale at Janice’s home – further adding to the team’s organization, and keeping everyone protected while socially distancing.
Everyone had a role. “We started joking that I was the CEO and quality control officer. Terri was in charge of acquisition, distribution, and fundraising. Terri’s husband Garry, was the CFO and accountant, keeping track of donations and how many masks were being made and distributed,” said Janice. Garry also had the initial task of cutting spools of elastic into the sizes they needed. He jokes that he cut about 10 football fields of elastic, seven inches at a time.
There are so many silver-lining stories that have come out of this project, Terri said. Nyla and her mother Flower Nguyen – a professional seamstress – helped provide many spools of elastic, which initially had been unavailable. John Andry of Shore Acres – a 20-something young man who has autism – was eager and enthusiastic in tackling the time-consuming task of cutting thousands of strips of elastic to the exact size needed, an important job to make sure the masks fit correctly.
Then there was the time when Chief Petty Officer Tim Abrams – on the orders
of Captain Matt Thompson of the US Coast Guard St. Petersburg station – came to Terri’s door in uniform to personally thank the team for making hundreds of grey-and-navy-blue masks to protect the men and women stationed here locally.
“It’s been a true grassroots effort, just unbelievable and so heartwarming,” said Terri. “We are honored to be part of it. A lot of our volunteers have told us that getting involved helped them stay busy and sane. It kept them from feeling paralyzed.” Garry adds, “I want to give a shout-out to the women who have undertaken this challenge. There are a few men involved, but it’s mostly the women who have done the hard work. They have been amazing.”
The amount of work the team has undertaken is staggering. By June 1, the team had made and donated over 12,500 masks. “We are going to have a big party when this is over,” said Terri. “It’s just been a village of untold angels to help our local heroes! It’s been people-connecting-people to help out.”