Wilton’s Mask Army Mobilizes in Effort to Protect Community, Essential Workers & Medical Personnel

Five days ago, the CDC advised all individuals to wear cloth masks when going out in public, to avoid the potential spread of COVID-19. However, medical personnel and essential workers face the spread of COVID-19 on the frontlines, up close and personal, and are desperately calling for more Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and supplies as well.

COVID-19 has undeniably put the community at risk. But in typical Wilton fashion, the community has not simply retreated in fear at home, but instead has asked, “How can I help?”

Within days of the first cases, individuals started to figure out ways to craft items that were needed. Through social media and resident networks–and sometimes right next door–many have joined up to collaborate and mobilize as an army of volunteers to do what they can to support the frontline heroes.

Warrior Helpers–New Group Becomes Hub of the GOOD

Wiltonian Bill Lalor knew there was a need to support front line COVID-19 workers within the community. But more than that, he knew there was a whole community of determined, stir-crazy and skilled individuals ready to help out. All they needed, he saw, was direction.

On a conference call with fellow residenets Patty Tomasetti, Tamara Conway, Michelle Haggerty, John Macken, Peter Wrampe, Kim Healy, Ken MacCallum and Lynn Martines, Lalor and the group discussed feeling helpless in the situation and uncertain about health care workers needs.

Out of this conversation emerged Warrior Helpers, a group set out to define the needs of front-line workers and outline ways to meet that need, in the hopes of motivating efficient and effective local action, Lalor said.

“So many people are saying to themselves, ‘I want to do something. I want to help but I’m stuck in my living room right now, I’m stuck in my house,'” Lalor explained. “The objective [of Warrior Helpers] was to take all of that interest that people have in trying to get involved, try to add some definition to all of it and give people discrete things to do, and try to match that with what the urgent needs are in the health care community.”

In only 48 hours from the initial conference call, the group had launched a Facebook page to discuss new needs they hear and supplies they’ve made, and created a website that matches volunteers making PPE to specific needs in the community. Less than a week from when it launched, the Facebook page currently has over 270 people.

Lalor said the site focuses on “needs that are simple enough, identifiable enough and workable from the standpoint of an individual,” so anyone can get involved. In other words, the needs outlined on the site do not require special materials, but facilitates collecting spare cleaning equipment, or using what individuals have to make homemade PPE.

What’s more, not only does the site outline what equipment is needed, but it also includes video tutorials and written instructions to guide anyone through making it themselves.

Lalor said Warrior Helpers hopes to eliminate misinformation, as well as streamline the process of getting resources to where they need to go.

So far the group has aggregated seven campaigns on its website, where it outlines the financial, food, and PPE needs of organizations on the frontlines, including senior centers, Danbury hospital, grocery stores, and Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Not only does the site describe what they need, but it also provides specific pickup/drop off locations to minimize human interaction.

Lalor said the area of need Warrior Helpers are currently prioritizing is masks, which are crucial for health care workers, yet almost universally in short supply for health care workers.

“These are fixable problems,” Lalor said. “In other words, [masks are] in high demand. They’re hugely important and it’s something someone can spend a few minutes on and make one.”

Lalor said the group hopes to only grow in the future, and streamline the communication between individuals and needs even more. And the warriors stepping up to join are plentiful.

Wilton PPE4ALL

Wilton’s “Glitter Fairy” Laurie Davis repurposed her studio to fulfill a new initiative, making face shields for essential workers in need.

Davis teamed up with next-door neighbor Betsy Paterson to launch WILTON PPE4ALL, an initiative to make homemade face shields for health care professionals desperately in need.

Paterson and Davis, who plan production “over the stone wall in the yard,” started making face shields on March 29 after watching an instructional video from a doctor. Since they’ve started, they have made dozens of masks, which have been distributed to nursing homes and hospitals alike.

For Davis, this production is personal. Her daughter works on the frontlines directly with COVID-19 patients. Although her daughter is currently safe, Davis said, “it is frightening, no matter how you look at it, because people of all ages are getting sick from it.” Seeing the state of the hospitals in New York, Davis said she thinks of her daughter and is motivated to act.

Davis said a face shield, in particular, is important, because it covers not only the mouth but the eyes and nose too, thus acting as a sufficient secondary layer of protection. The shield is made of a clear plastic sheet of acetate, elastic, two laminated layers of weathering strips to go against the forehead, and a small label, so health care providers can identify and reuse their own mask.

As a designer, Davis took care to design the face shields to maximize comfort, coverage, and accessibility. The masks have been approved by the Infectious Disease Representative at Norwalk Hospital, Paterson said, and have been well received by the medical community.

“Some [face shields] went to Westchester through a friend who has nurse friends who needed them, and we actually got a text back showing the nurse wearing the mask and the text read, ‘I’m in tears…Thank you so much. This is perfect. Now I feel a little safer going into my shift to work tonight,'” Davis said.

But WILTON PPE4ALL is far from over. The local need persists–Davis said Norwalk hospital told her they would “take as many [shields] as we make,” and many neighboring medical centers are also begging for more supplies. So Davis said their next step is to produce DIY kits and enlist the community for help, so that more people can assemble additional masks, efficiently increasing their production.

“We’re going to keep making them on our own, but we thought it would be a good idea to try to get it out into the community,” Davis said. “So our target now is to prepare 100 kits, each kit with the ability to construct 10 shields.”

Reaching her goal of 100 kits would mean 1,000 additional face shields for medical personnel and nursing homes, and that 100 more people would have the tools to make more on their own. The kits would include instructions and supplies, supplemented by a video tutorial Davis plans to create. She added that when the kits are ready, Warrior Helpers will help get the word out.

“We’re taking a leap of faith with making up 100 kits, but the response that I’ve gotten personally…has led me to believe that the town will rise to the occasion,” Davis added.

Individual Action 

Actions from WILTON PPE4ALL and Warrior Helpers rely on individuals for help. And they have not been disappointed.

Yesterday, Lynn Martines, took 48 face shields made by WILTON PPE4ALL and personally drove them to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York, where they are desperately low on supplies. (The masks were donated through the organization PPEforNYC.)

“Elmhurst Hospital has basically become one huge ICU with over 400 people working around the clock caring for patients,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “Over 200 doctors and nurses have traveled to New York from all over the country to help in this fight against Coronavirus! Tents set up all over the place and a refrigerated truck stationed outside to hold dead bodies. I honestly don’t know how they keep going, but they do!”

Martines called upon anyone to “please do whatever you can do to help,” asking specifically for N95 masks, goggles, gloves, hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, thermometers, and phone chargers, so patients can still talk to loved ones.

“Our healthcare workers are left unprotected, but they continue to show up every day…every damn day…,” Martines added. “I am humbled, heartbroken, yet hopeful. Our sense of community astounds me as we band together in this fight.”

Martines is joined by an army of Warriors supporting the effort as well.

Wilton mom Miki Lasher got creative with making masks by repurposing fabric from the unfinished costumes her daughters would have worn in the now-canceled Wilton High School spring production, “Hello Dolly.”

“I had all the materials out already, so I [said], ’Let’s just do it.’” she said.

Not only does making masks help her contribute to the community effort, but it also keeps her and her girls, Miya and Aki, busy while at home.

“Helping make these masks is keeping (the girls) productive with their downtime,” Lasher said.

Since starting making masks last Saturday, as of Monday they had more than 20 completed. They are part of the Warrior Helpers Facebook group and look forward to helping more.

Nancy Pantoliano and her daughter, Dani, launched an initiative called PantzPlace where they are making scrub caps for those in need with creative, fun designs. Amy Reuther, a local chiropractor, has been making hundreds of masks from her home, with bright fabrics.

Masks made by Amy Reuther.
Businesses Stepping Up 

Beyond individuals, businesses have been joining the fight to get PPE equipment out to those who need it.

Priti Shah switched gears with her new designer bag business Poyni Creations, going from making environmentally friendly bags to mass mask production for first responders.

Jennifer Angerame of Southern Yankee has been sewing since she was 10 years old, but had never made a mask until a week and a half ago. She sent out a community inquiry about who needed some, doubtful it would come to anything substantial. That thought changed fast.

To her great surprise, Angerame has been inundated with requests from medical personnel and individuals not only from Wilton but from all over the country. And she has stepped up. In that week and a half, Angerame has made over 300 masks and dozens of surgical caps.

“This is the one thing I can do–I can make masks,” Angerame said. “I have the fabric I have the skill. I can do this.”

She is making them not only for medical professionals but also to donate to organizations such as Open Door Shelter and offering them to the Wilton community for free as well. Those who have asked to pay, she has declined, suggesting instead that they support a small business.

Masks made by Southern Yankee’s Jennifer Angerame, who has made 12 dozen masks and 4 dozen caps … and counting!

Though she is busy, being able to contribute by making these masks is “keeping [her] sanity,” and she hopes her fun fabrics and styles bring joy to someone in this hard time.

“I’m working with a lot of vintage fabrics so they’re going to be fun and colorful and maybe put a smile on someone’s face.”

Alison Luciano, owner of the Plumed Serpent Bridal Salon, has creatively repurposed the remarkably durable wedding dress garment bags into masks.

“Somewhere, I saw that bridal garment bags because it’s a breathable fabric are the perfect materials to use for masks,” Luciano said. “And it’s wonderful because they’re also reusable. So, after you use them, you could put them in the microwave for two minutes and it sterilizes them.”

After posting an inquiry online to see if anyone would want them, like Angerame, Luciano said the response was overwhelming.

“I was on my cellphone that night and I was crying because I was so upset because the need was so desperate and intense, and my [Direct Messages] and my emails were just blowing up from people just basically begging for masks,” Luciano said. “So we just doubled down, and we were like okay great, we’re going to make as many as we can.”

Luciano and her employees are now able to produce 100 masks a day and are distributing their first 250 masks Friday.

Raw materials can be very hard to find and expensive, not just for individuals making these products, but for Luciano too. So Luciano said they decided to decorate and sell “designer masks” with lace and decor to offset the production costs of the masks going directly to frontline workers.

Though she says donating masks is small, she’s proud to be part of a community effort like this.

“You have to do what you can to support everyone you can, as many people as you can,” Luciano said. “I’m blessed that I can do this…and I have the materials, and I have wonderful people on my team, who are supportive of this and are donating their time to help make these.”

If you’d like to join Wilton’s mask army, visit the Warrior Helpers Facebook page for more information.