A willing spirit of volunteerism inspires Hope For TampaCOVID-19 Missions and Outreach
Like many people throughout Florida, Claudia Ingram of Brandon’s New Hope United Methodist Church is trying to help in the battle against COVID-19. She has been sewing since she was a child, so when the need for medical masks became acute, Claudia knew what to do.
She joined with others in a group called Hope For Tampa and put her sewing machine to work. As her completed masks were picked up from the drop-off spot in Valrico, she started making more. Like everyone involved, she knew this was an important effort.
Perhaps, though, Claudia didn't fully grasp how important it was for those on the receiving end. That changed when a nurse posted on Facebook about her gratitude at receiving a mask. Although she couldn’t use it while on the job, the nurse kept it in her pocket as a reminder about the kindness of strangers.
“On good days, I touch it and it makes me smile to think that someone cared enough to do this,” she wrote. “And on really bad days, I cry into it.”
Hope For Tampa is the brainchild of Tampa’s Hope N. Griffin, Director of Events and Faith-Based Programs for The Storytellers Alliance. It is a non-denominational attempt to fill a desperate need.
It started when she posted on Facebook about getting some people together to sew the desperately needed masks. It has rapidly grown to a volunteer army of more than 700 sewers, organizers, and delivery drivers. The word spreads through social media and the group’s professional-looking website that is filled with information about to make the masks and ways to get involved.
“Starting this was kind of an accident,” Griffin said. “Like everyone, I have a lot of anxiety, but I wanted to do what I could to help. And I could sew. But we needed supplies for sewing.
“When we started, people were using their own supplies and they started running out. We were running short on elastic that goes over the ears to hold the mask in place.”
That need was shared through social media, and sewers began to share inventive ways of making do with the material they had. And donations came in through the program’s website to keep the operation going.
The group needs 100% cotton, or cotton-blend, fabrics that are breathable. They can use elastic, t-shirt yarn, metallic twist ties, and thread.
Meanwhile, requests for the masks kept increasing, requiring more volunteers and coordination.
"Hospice workers, nurses, assisted living facilities, and ER doctors have been reaching out to us asking for masks," Griffin said.
"I’m glad this has provided a creative outlet for our volunteers, and even better that we are connecting arts, wellness, and community during a time when many of us are feeling isolated from the rest of the world."
Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa asked for masks. So did the Morton Plant Hospital Oncology Surgery Unit. Nursing homes and home care centers. Rehabilitation centers. Tampa General Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit asked for 220 masks
St. Joseph’s Hospital made multiple requests. Bay Pines VA Cardiac Unit asked for 200 masks. Even the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs asked for 100 masks. The list goes on and on and is routinely expanding.
The group has already provided more than 15,000 masks, with more on the way every day.
“People are doing this out of sense of volunteerism,” Florida Conference Church Vitality and Leadership Development Director Janet Earls said. "They see a need and they want to help. It's a very Christian thing to do."
That spirit of volunteerism is spreading across Florida. Grace on the Island UMC in Venice has a dozen women sewing masks for local healthcare workers.
First UMC Jupiter-Tequesta is doing the same and has instructions on its website for making masks.
Back in Tampa, the community has stepped up in a major way to join the Hope effort. For instance, the Academy of Holy Names school in Tampa donated sewing machines from its art classes.
The Dad’s Club has been collecting t-shirts to use as mask material. The school also serves as a drop-off point.
|One of the drop-off points.|
A mask can be completed in 20-30 minutes usually.
Once the masks are completed, they are washed and sterilized in hot water and sealed in plastic bags for transport to any of several drop-off points throughout the Bay area. Drivers collect the bags and take them where they are needed.
If the sewer was unable to sterilize the masks, they note that in large letters on the bag so the recipient can be aware.
The effort recently began to expand to the east in Polk County, where Earls already has been sewing masks with another group. She spoke with Griffin about a possible collaboration.
“It’s kind of like a war effort, or a hurricane effort. People are joining together to help,” Earls said. “It’s not just one church or denomination that’s doing this. It’s a grassroots effort that tells people that they don’t have to go through this by themselves. Anybody can get involved.”
--Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for flumc.org
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