In this time of social distancing, a Mount Pleasant Township woman has taken the suggestion to heart and created her own “Sew-cial” contribution to efforts of Pennsylvanians to stay safe, stay healthy, stay home.

On Friday, April 3, Gov. Tom Wolf officially asked all Pennsylvanians to wear a face mask anytime they leave the house as a continued effort to control the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Erna Patton of Kecksburg began making face masks for friends and family after seeing others online making the masks. After just two weeks, she has made more than 200 hand-sewn masks and distributed them through the local community at no cost.

Patton has made masks for the Hempfield Manor facility, doctors’ offices in Latrobe and has made them available at a local post office.

“I got the idea from Facebook,” Patton said. “I give many of them to the Mask Makers SW PA group and I send quite a few to the Norvelt Post Office where my daughter, Sheri, gives them out to the community.”

Sheri Lawson, postmaster at Norvelt Post Office, said the masks are well received.

“The first day I had them, they were all gone,” Lawson said. “By word of mouth people heard we had them here. As fast as my mom can make them, people are taking them.”

Lawson said she is not afraid of being a part of the essential workers group because she is young and healthy. She takes extreme caution and is continuously cleaning the countertops and machines at the post office.

A plexiglass screen will be installed at the counter to help combat the spread of the virus. Lawson said she has been busier than normal since the outbreak and she looks for people to do more mailing now.

Patton makes the masks at no charge but will accept monetary donations to replenish her supplies. She said the elastic banding used is a scarce commodity at area fabric shops.

Patton said the masks are 100% cotton and lined with quilt batting. They can be washed in hot water. Each mask uses 15 inches of elastic and a quarter yard of fabric and quilt batting.

“I do this because it is a way to help the health profession. It helps everybody. And, it gives me something to do because I am a school bus driver and I cannot go to work,” Patton said.

Patton’s memories of learning how to sew from her mother, the late Thelma Heide, and her love for making things for others led her to establish her in-home business, “Keeping Memories by Erna,” a few years ago. Since then she has kept busy making memory teddy bears, pillows, blankets and aprons from the clothing of a loved one who has passed away. Now she is doing her part for the ongoing pandemic.

Patton joins many Pennsylvanians who are also taking up the cause to contribute by using their sewing skills. Wolf said the cloth masks help prevent people from sharing illnesses.

“They don’t do a great job from keeping people from getting sick and they are not foolproof, so it is critical that our first act is to ask ourselves if we really need to leave our house,” Wolf said.

The governor urges everyone to use the masks to protect others as well as themselves.

“Wearing a mask we help us cut down the possibility that we might be infecting an innocent bystander like the grocery store clerk or cashier, the pharmacist or someone stocking shelves,” Wolf said. “These folks are keeping us alive by getting us the supplies we need. We owe it to them to do everything we can to keep them safe. Right now that means wearing a mask.”

Wolf said Pennsylvanians also need to do their part to keep healthcare workers safe.

“I am asking everyone to please reserve N-95 and paper masks for these vital workers,” Wolf said. “Instead, use a cloth or homemade mask.”

Directions for making your own masks are available on the state’s website at Wolf advised residents to utilize the many options available on the internet to make your own mask or how to acquire one from a community member who is making them.

“Universal masking is expected to be recommended by the CDC shortly. In Pennsylvania, we want to be ahead of the nation in slowing the spread of COVID-19. We don’t want to be behind it,” Wolf said. “When you absolutely must leave home, wear a cloth mask.”

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