Keeping busy with mask-making

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DRACUT — Meaghan O’Brien is very busy at the moment.

The 21-year-old is not doing so by finishing up her junior year at UMass Lowell en route to earning a degree in business administration, or by working from home as a staffer of UMass Lowell’s Dean’s Office. For the past month, O’Brien’s been busy putting her newly acquired sewing skills to the test by making nearly 400 face masks and shipping them to those in need of protection from the coronavirus throughout the country.

“I had seen that there were posts online about hospitals not having masks and doctors not having masks,” O’Brien said Sunday. “I wasn’t sure if I could help or not.”

O’Brien said she picked up sewing from her mother in the last weeks of March after seeing numerous posts on social media about a lack of personal protective equipment. She credited her mother for “patiently” teaching her the tricks of the trade and her father for showing her how to sew lining into the masks for users to hang it off their ears. She even admitted to changing the entire style of the masks, starting with only cotton material before combining layers of cotton and flannel to make the masks thicker.

“It’s a little more dense,” she added. “With cotton, even with three layers, you can still see right through it. So they say that’s a good way to figure out how thick it is. With flannel, there’s something about the material that’s thicker, making it a little more difficult for material to get through.”

As for what was holding up the masks, O’Brien said she and her sister tried cutting up headbands and using the material to make elastic strings connected to the masks. After picking up more headbands at the Dollar Store, O’Brien said she found elastic shock cords from an online marine company to make for more stretchy and sturdy lines in the masks.

O’Brien’s completed efforts started on March 27 with nine masks given to a local nurse named Lucia Petros, who she knew from going to school with her children, and three to the Dracut Food Pantry, where she previously volunteered. Since then, she’s made about 397 face masks and shipped them to people in California, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois and Michigan. Those out-of-state orders came from O’Brien spreading the word on Facebook and having out-of-state family members doing the same. Instead of payment, O’Brien is asking anyone receiving a mask to donate to their local food pantry.

“Obviously there are a lot of people out there who have lost their jobs and I wouldn’t feel right about asking people to pay for masks,” she said.

The work for her is hardly over, as she has received over 500 orders for masks that she’s still working on filling. Fortunately she has her family at home helping her sew and pack more masks. She’s also still taking orders, with those interested able to reach her via her email at [email protected]

“It’s been nice to see people in the community come together to support each other, but obviously a lot of people have lost work and family members,” O’Brien said. “Hopefully it doesn’t keep happening.”

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