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Retirees, Goodwill Industries create fabric masks for Ascension Medical Group Via Christi clinics

To stem the spread of COVID-19 infection, Ascension Medical Group Via Christi asks patients to bring their own masks when they come for care.

But many of the 1,500 patients seen by its Wichita clinics each day don't have one. 

To preserve medical quality masks for staff and symptomatic patients, the clinics, like the Ascension Via Christi hospitals, have turned to the community for help.

And just as it has throughout the pandemic, the community has responded with donated or low-cost locally produced cloth face masks that can be given to patients.

The most recent of these have come from two Derby retirees with a passion for sewing and another community non-profit organization.

Dear neighbors 

To help keep up with the demand, AMG Via Christi associates in the Cardiology and Pulmonary departments were asked to donate T-shirts so they could be turned into masks. 

So Jamie Egan, one of the nurses, reached out to her Facebook friends for materials and the response was immediate.

“I made a post about the need for materials on May 8 and instead six days later I had 250 masks to deliver to work,” says Egan.

The masks were donated by Debbie Wiesner and Judy Wells, two Derby retirees whose life-long passion for sewing has led to the creation of more than 4,000 masks since COVID-19 hit Kansans in March. Those masks have gone to fulfill requests that have come to them through social media or word of mouth.

“It started with Judy and I meeting for coffee and trading fabrics to create a few masks in our home sewing rooms,” says Debbie. “It has progressed into a wonderful, major way to help our community.” 

Debbie and Judy, who continue to sew daily, have modified their mask designs over time, such as using softer T-shirt fabric for the ear loops in place of elastic, which is now harder to find.

“We can make one mask in 20 minutes,” says Judy. "With the help of WSU GoCreate, we were able to begin an initiative with their resources to make more and more each day."

That allowed the duo to donate another 140 masks to AMG Via Christi's Urology and Endocrinology department.

“It's incredible to see how quickly we could receive what we needed to help protect our patients,” says manager Bithia Barber. "Donations like these during COVID-19 are true evidence of the strength and compassion of our community."

An Act of Goodwill

Given the clinics' significant, ongoing need for masks that patients without one could wear, wash and use on their next visit, David Alexander, President of the Via Christi Foundation, was asked for help.

Alexander reached out to Goodwill Industries of Kansas to see if the organization could make 5,000 masks that the Foundation could purchase.

Goodwill’s mission is to provide education, job training and employment to individuals with disabilities and other employment barriers. Its sewing department,, makes a variety of uniforms and safety apparel for businesses across the country. As such, Goodwill already had the materials needed to create the masks, which they would contribute at no cost and only charge a nominal amount for the labor to produce them.

"We are always looking for ways to partner with other great organizations and help the communities we serve," says Emily Compton, president/CEO of Goodwill Industries of Kansas. "Since COVID-19 hit, we have been operating a skeleton crew in our sewing department and were busy with orders for other essential businesses. We knew the importance of protecting Via Christi’s patients and staff, so we made this order happen.”

Alexander says it is just one more example of Ascension Via Christi working with its partners to devise solutions that benefit patients, families, caregivers and the community at large.

"We both have a mission of serving the community, with a particular focus on those who are vulnerable," says Alexander. "Working together toward that end when the opportunity arises simply makes sense."

About Roz Hutchinson

Roz Hutchinson is a Wichita wife, mother and chief spoiler of six grandkids and three Chihuahuas, a die-hard women's basketball fan, and director of Communications and Public Relations for Ascension Via Christi.