Catholics take part in the ‘war effort’ by making and donating masks, face shields

| April 4, 2020 | 0 Comments

Mother Theresa Louisa Wooching of the Little Sisters of the Poor, right, wears a donated face mask that will be used during the coronavirus pandemic. In the background and also wearing masks are Lynn Kerber, director of nursing, left, and resident Jeanne Kellett. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

In the face of a global pandemic that frightens and overwhelms many, hundreds of local Catholics are asking themselves what they can do to make a difference. And, they are stepping forward to give of their resources and skills.

They include Mark Westlake, director of the Innovation Center at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights. About two weeks ago, he and a friend came up with an idea to make face shields for doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. Westlake, who, like other local educators and students, now stays at home, is putting his trio of 3D printers to work making about 20 shields a day, with his wife, Rebecca, and five children pitching in to help.

He started making them March 26. The process involves using plastic filaments that are inserted into the printer, then formed according to a specially designed software file to make a visor. Then, a sheet of acetate is attached to the visor to complete the shield, which can be fitted to someone’s head with an elastic band.

Within days of starting, word of Westlake’s project spread, and there are now 120 people who have contacted him to say they are going to use their 3D printers in the same way. He hopes it will soon add up to 500 shields a day that he can collect and bring to medical professionals who want them.

“The need is tremendous,” said Westlake, 57. “I get an email an hour from somebody who says, ‘Can you make some for us?’ or, ‘How soon can you get us a lot?’ People are asking for 100 or 200 at a time.”

Shortages of both face shields and masks are well documented in the Twin Cities and nationwide. A lot of the attention has been on hospitals and care centers for the elderly. One such facility, the Little Sisters of the Poor Holy Family Residence in St. Paul, has made a request for face shields, and Westlake said their request — and all others he has received so far — will be answered.

In the meantime, the Little Sisters are benefiting from donations of masks, with 100 given by Victoria Cross, 60, of St. Patrick in Cedar Lake, near Jordan. She pumps out the masks eight hours a day on an embroidery machine. Making and delivering masks helps her feel like she’s “part of the war effort.” And, it has brought relief and comfort to the staff at the Holy Family Residence, all the way up to Mother Theresa Louisa Wooching, who leads the group of nine sisters who staff the facility along with health care professionals who work with the 68 residents daily.

“It’s a lot of help (to get the donated masks); we can use them,” Mother Theresa Louisa said. “We don’t have a case (of COVID-19) right now, but it’s consoling for the staff to use (the donated masks) right now. … It’s a great act of charity (for people) to spend this time doing that for us.”

The masks are an important supplement for the traditional N95 mask used by healthcare professionals, which now are in short supply locally and throughout the country. Individuals and organizations are trying to pick up the slack by having collections.

Penny Bartzen, a health care worker at Buffalo Hospital and member of Holy Name of Jesus in Wayzata, asked her pastor, Father Steve Ulrick, if she could start a mask and face shield donation effort. He quickly agreed, and there now is a cardboard box just inside the main doors of the church. People can drop off masks and face shields anytime, and she will collect them once a week. She will take them back to the hospital as part of a collection being run by its parent company, Allina.

“Somebody donated a hazmat suit and a lot of elastic and fabric,” Bartzen, 67, said. “And then people have been writing me saying that they’re sewing the masks with their family and grandchildren and dropping masks off in the box.”

Working as an occupational therapist brings her closer to the front lines of the pandemic, even though she herself does not work with people infected with COVID-19. She has observed other hospital employees, “and seeing their level of stress is what pushed me” to start a mask and shield donation at Holy Name. She said she will keep the collection going as long as it’s needed.

Likewise, Westlake and Cross will continue their efforts as long as the pandemic lasts. Westlake works mostly from home, but goes into the school for part of the assembly process. He has started hearing from local manufacturers in the Twin Cities who want to pitch in, and he said it is a great example of how to make a difference.

“Everybody we talk to says the same thing,” he said. “They said, ‘We hate feeling helpless, and we feel like this is a way that we can fight back.’”

Tags: , , , ,

Category: Local News