Labor of Love: Greeneville community sewing face masks amid COVID-19 shortage

Local Coronavirus Coverage

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) As the coronavirus outbreak continues, hospitals across the country are seeing a shortage of N-95 medical masks, which are essential in protecting healthcare workers from the spread of disease.

People across the country are taking matters into their own hands from home, making the next best thing.

Handmade masks are becoming a lifeline for medical workers and first responders. In Greeneville, Tennessee one group of volunteers is refusing to let local workers go without.

“I have spent 13 hours about every day, maybe more,” says Jana Wills, who helped organize the effort.

For Jana, it is a seamless labor of love, in a time of great need.

“I can’t imagine what these healthcare workers are facing from day to day. Not having the protective gear they need breaks my heart,” says Jana.

When she and her husband Mark Wills saw the effect of a nationwide shortage in their own neighborhood, they took to social media.

Saturday, they created the Facebook group “The Greeneville Tailor Shop.”

“Literally in less than 12 hours it took off. People started joining and sewing masks with us,” says Jana.

In just a matter of days, more than 150 people have joined the group, rallying behind the cause.

“People are really pitching in. We’ve got 100 going here, 200 going there. We’ve got requests left and right from organizations,” says Mark.

The Wills family teamed up with Greene County Emergency Management. The office is helping distribute the masks made by the volunteers to those who need them the most, including nurses, healthcare workers and first responders.

“If we can supply it to them and make them feel more comfortable going to their job then that’s what we will do,” says Heather Sipe, director of Greene County EMA.

Volunteers say the masks are not hard to make, but they do take time!

“Together we can make 25 to 30 a day if we work long hours,” says Jana. “I’m the ironer! I do a lot of the ironing,” adds Mark.

Some of the masks heading to the hands of healthcare workers even include a personal touch.

One note attached to a mask reads, “Thanks for being a true hero.”

“The community has really come together, there is absolutely no way we could do this by ourselves,” says Jana.

“This is kind of an outlet for me, some positivity. Getting the masks out, seeing the smile on somebody’s face when they receive them,” says Sipe.

Stitch by stitch, Jana Wills says it is a token of gratitude for the ones on the front lines of fighting the pandemic.

“That can be my part in helping the community and helping those that are doing a job that I myself, could not do. They are my heroes right now,” says Jana.

And sometimes, all it takes to help your hero is something “sew” simple as a needle and fabric.

“Just one more mask. We will keep going until the need is not there,” says Jana.

The Greeneville Tailor Shop is solely volunteer based and is not making any masks for profit.

Jana and Mark Wills wanted to emphasize the incredible help they have received from those who have joined the Facebook group and helped them make the masks.

Ballad Health announced Tuesday that they are accepting handmade masks for respiratory patients in their hospitals.

The health system also released instructions for how to make the masks.

The Greeneville Tailor Shop is using instructions that can be found on Button Counter’s website.

If you would like to join the effort in Greene County, join the Facebook Group. The Wills family encourages others to start groups like theirs in communities across the region.

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