Auburn Family responds to COVID-19 mask sewing needs, more help needed from community volunteers

Published: April 24, 2020
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The Auburn Family has responded in a strong way in producing face masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but more help is needed.

Through a coalition of university units and faculty led by Auburn University Outreach’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI at Auburn, a plan is underway for the creation of 10,000 protective face masks for health care workers. Although more than 1,500 masks have been created, there remains a call for more help from public volunteers who can sew.

“We have 6,000 more kits to distribute, and we appreciate every single person who is sitting at a sewing machine helping our community combat this pandemic,” said organizer Scott Bishop, director of OLLI at Auburn. “It has been an honor to work with many campus partners to leverage Auburn’s resources to help facilitate a remarkable grassroots effort to furnish much-needed homemade masks to our community health care workers.”

Volunteers can sew the masks from cotton fabric templates available at OLLI at Auburn’s Sunny Slope office. The templates will have four pieces of fabric that will be pre-cut from the pattern in the instructions. Instructions and the demonstration video are available on the initiative’s website at aub.ie/auoutreachmasks.

Faculty members of Auburn’s School of Industrial and Graphic Design and in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Teaching have cut more than 8,000 fabric templates, and OLLI at Auburn has distributed 4,000 sewing kits to public volunteers. More than 1,500 completed masks have been distributed to local medical facilities and nursing homes to meet a growing need amid short supplies.

“The recipients have been so grateful,” said Bishop. “Dr. Brandon Johnson of EAMC Cancer Center said, ‘Thank you so much. It really means a lot. We have already started passing them out, and patients are absolutely ecstatic.’”

Kim Brumbeloe, Outreach Education data technician and chair of the Auburn University staff council, has sewn more than 400 masks for the initiative with the help of her mother and sister.

“I knew that I was doing my part by staying home, working remotely and practicing social distancing, but I felt I needed to do more,” said Brumbeloe. “I was safe at home, yet there were health care workers out there every day being exposed, and I needed to give a little bit back.”

Brumbeloe always wanted to sew, but she said her projects never came out right. Spending more time at home than usual provided her the perfect opportunity to polish the craft.

“My mom and grandmother always sewed,” she said. “I took sewing class in the ninth grade, but I didn’t really get it. So, this is my first real sewing project.”

Kevin Coonrod, Auburn University ombudsperson, taught himself how to sew to support the initiative. He said he had an immense feeling of helplessness because he didn’t feel there was anything he could do about the COVID-19 crisis. After learning about the initiative from Vice President for University Outreach Royrickers Cook, Coonrod found the opportunity to help that he had been seeking.

“Conflict provides opportunity because it removes us from our comfort zone and forces us to think of alternative ways to accomplish things,” Coonrod said. “It didn’t matter that I didn’t know how to sew or that I didn’t have a sewing machine. Those were obstacles, so I bought a machine that night. It has been three weekends learning how to use it.”

For more information about the initiative and to learn how you can volunteer, visit aub.ie/auoutreachmasks or call Scott Bishop at OLLI at Auburn at 334-844-3146.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.