ITHACA, N.Y. –– On Monday the Tompkins County Health Department announced they were looking for volunteers to make cloth masks, as demand has increased following the Governor’s executive order requiring people to cover their face to slow the spread of COVID-19. Volunteers have jumped on the opportunity to help, and masks are now available for distribution to essential businesses.

The Tompkins County Health Department has partnered with TST BOCES, the Tompkins Chamber, the ReUse Center, local mask makers and entrepreneurs to continue to sew masks. Their goal is to have 15 volunteer sewers each day –– 10 showed up on day one, many with their own sewing machines.

“It has been so wonderful to see how the community, individuals and businesses, have come together in the county’s mask making effort!  Here I am sitting in the middle of a gym surrounded by people cutting, ironing, and sewing!  Some of the sewing machines have been donated by the library.  It’s a beautiful thing to see and be a part of,” said Julie Dickens, the on-site operations lead. “All of the fabric is repurposed, donated by Ithaca ReUse, who is sorting it for us and taking it to The Mall dry cleaners who washes it. Amazing, just amazing!”

A  production facility has been set up in the gym at TST BOCES, and over 150 people have reached out so far to help volunteer or to make masks at home. Masks made at home are being deposited into the So Sew Many’s blue boxes –– a local effort with locations across the County.

For those who don’t or can’t sew but are looking to help, a campaign by the Tompkins Chamber Foundation is funding lunch for volunteers. Restaurants can also sign up with lunch offers and orders are made through that list.

Essential businesses that need cloth masks for their employees are encouraged to make requests through this form. A Tompkins County official will follow up with you on where and when to pick up your designated masks. Hand sanitizer is also available.

Masks and sanitizer to be picked up from the EOC.

Guidance from the county continues to be that individuals should stay home unless absolutely necessary. If you are an essential worker or cannot maintain social distancing, guidance on the use of masks can be found here.

Frank Kruppa, Public Health Director said  “It’s important that people remember that masks protect others from the wearer — essentially my mask protects you and your mask protects me.

He went on to say, “it’s been heartwarming to see how many volunteers have stepped up, and how many local partners have worked to make this system for mask making and distribution work. Our number one goal is ensuring the health and safety of the public, essential workers wearing masks while interacting with the public will be a key component of that effort.”

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com