By Cynthia Mendoza
In a time when wearing protective masks is part of the new normal, thanks to COVID-19, Seventh-day Adventists throughout the Columbia Union Conference are stepping up to help meet those needs in creative ways, while also sharing encouragement and hope as they do so.
Sewing is something Linda Tatum (pictured left), who attends Chesapeake Conference’s Willow Brook church in Boonsboro, Md., loves to do—particularly quilts. When the pandemic hit in the spring, she started noticing social media posts about fabric face masks that piqued her interest. She decided to make masks for her daughter and son-in-law, both of whom work in health care.
Using the techniques she learned in a tutorial, she created approximately seven masks, making a few tweaks by adding filters from non-woven interfacing with leftover material from when she used to make clothing.
Her husband started wearing the masks to work where some of his employees inquired about masks for themselves, so she made a couple more.
“A good friend also contacted me asking if I would make two for her grandson,” she says.
“The timing was perfect because it was Easter and [I was] not motivated to do much, but that text message motivated me and I made more. In total I’ve made about 15 masks.”
“These Are My People”
Seeing the indentation marks on the faces of health care professionals—who wore the same masks for hours at a time as they worked incessantly to treat COVID-19 patients—broke Gael Murray’s heart.
“I knew I wanted to help and respond to the call, but wasn’t sure where to begin,” says Murray, a member of Allegheny East Conference’s Miracle City church in Baltimore. “I was inspired by the daily press conferences with various governors and hospital works; their greatest need was for masks, gowns and protective gear. I was saddened by the visual indentations.”
For Murray, helping during the crisis meant putting her own plans on hold, including postponing seminary studies temporarily. After much prayer, seeking divine guidance, she got to work on sewing, already having the skills and abundant supplies needed to get started.
At first, Murray, who learned how to sew from her seamstress mother, started making the masks for hospital workers, and also joined several grassroots organizations that were distributing masks nationwide. She soon realized, however, there were people her own community in need of masks—first responders, sanitation workers, delivery drivers, grocery store clerks, and, of course, local hospital workers.
“These are the people in my neighborhood,” she says. “It turned into a community outreach ministry for me.”
Murray recalled an incident at Walmart; a woman and her grandson were leaving the store, and Murray felt impressed to give them masks. The woman thought the masks were for sale, but Murray assured them they were free. The woman’s eyes welled up with tears. She told Murray that she’d been at the store looking for masks, but they were sold out. The woman said no one had ever done anything so nice for her. Murray told her “Jesus loves you,” and that she’d be praying for her. Because of social distancing precautions, no hugs were physically exchanged.
“God has blessed me with this gift and the space to be able to share with others,” she says about her mask ministry.
Circling the Community With Love
Many other individuals and groups across the union have also worked to outfit local organizations and friends with masks, including members from the Potomac Conference Beltsville church’s Days for Girls Team; Laura Hudson, a member from Pennsylvania Conference’s Philadelphia Boulevard church; Isabel Afanador, a 94-year-old member from Potomac Conference’s Washington Spanish Bilingual church; and Valerie Butler and Laurie Gibb, members of Chesapeake Conferences New Hope church in Fulton, Md.
Allegheny East Conference’s Capitol Hill church in Washington, D.C., has also been busy ministering to their community in various ways during the pandemic. Their sewing circle—comprised of church members from 17–90 years old—has made 40 masks for seniors, Adventist Community Services of Greater Washington and neighbors. They also donated 300 surgical masks to Howard University Hospital (DC), 50 to a domestic violence shelter and another 50 to senior citizens living near the church.
“It feels nice to be able to help people in need stay safe,” says Rosie Stansberry, 17, about her experience in the sewing circle.
Even though she already knew how to sew, she had to learn how to make masks four different ways. In total, she has made approximately 24 masks. “By getting involved in service, you can learn new things, and you’re doing it for God’s glory,” Stansberry says.
For people who are looking to help in their own churches and communities, Karen Hayes, Community Services Ministry leader at the Capitol Hill church, offers a simple tip on how to start.
“Reach out to local community organizations, ask what they need and try to meet that particular need because they’ve already expressed it,” she said, adding that needs may differ neighborhood to neighborhood. “This has been eye-opening.”
Ricardo Bacchus contributed to the reporting of this article.