Mask-makers finding joy, ministry in helping others stay safe

For years, Jean Talbot, a member of Mountain Springs Baptist Church in Piedmont, has been making pillows for people who are recovering from illnesses or surgeries. But now she’s using her sewing skills to make face masks for others.

About 13 years ago, Talbot was diagnosed with breast cancer. After her surgery, she couldn’t find a pillow that seemed comfortable to sit with for long periods as she recovered, so she made one.

When others began asking her about her pillow, she started making some to give away. Other women from her church and community have joined her ministry efforts at times. She now has given away more than 7,500 “comfort” pillows with the help of others, and she has started making “port pillows,” especially for children with cancer, to use with seat belts to ease rash and irritation.

When the coronavirus outbreak began, Talbot made some masks for her family, using sports-themed fabric based on hobbies they enjoy, such as swimming and soccer. She then quickly transitioned to making masks for others to help local nurses, businesses and fellow church members.

“I don’t charge for them individually,” Talbot said. “I just say, make a donation to the church. So, that’s what people have done.”

Talbot estimates she has made close to 200 masks since the beginning of April. Her goal, she said, is to make 10 to 12 a day, if possible. She often selects cloth patterns for the masks based on what she knows about those who will be receiving them.

At the moment, she is working on masks displaying flag patterns for the sixth graders at a local school. She has also sent masks to Florida to someone who wanted them to put in Easter baskets for children and to hand out to pregnant women.

Her reward, she said, is “just to know that I’m helping somebody to be safe and to protect themselves a little” from the spread of this disease.

With the shortage of masks, mask-making has become a huge need, particularly as businesses, restaurants, churches and other places are now beginning to reopen. And other South Carolina Baptists have become involved in similar projects.

Bivocational pastor Mike Stubblefield at The Oak Church in Cowpens, for instance, also works for a local business, Penn Prints, which is making protective masks as a specialty print item. The micropolyester masks with foam barriers are reusable and washable, as well as manufactured in South Carolina, he noted.

Stubblefield’s church, which has been offering a drive-in service for several weeks, was among the early ones to begin reopening in May.

“We will be handing these (masks) out to our people,” he said. “We are using this as a ministry in the church right now for our members.”

After posting a notice on Facebook about the company’s masks, it didn’t take long for others to begin inquiring about them. “We’ve had four churches make a purchase, and several others were going to take it before their deacons,” he said after the post was online only a day or two.

“So far, we’ve had one to put two logos on each side, two put a logo on one side and a Bible verse on the other (Isaiah 61:3, 2 Corinthians 5:7), and one put their logo on one side and their vision statement on the other,” Stubblefield said.

In Due West, June Gambrell, a member of New Hope Baptist Church, was sewing cloth masks for those in the healthcare field. She’s made about 300, but she will have to stop while recovering from shoulder surgery.

She found a pattern for masks on YouTube. After making a few, members of her church and neighbors began requesting her to make ones for them, too. Word quickly spread.

Pastor Richard Ashley’s sister, who is a nurse at AnMed Health Medical Center and Patrick B. Harris Psychiatric Hospital, was grateful to have received the masks. Gambrell made about 100 masks for her to give away, and about 75 went to employees of a local CVS store. It takes her about 15 minutes to make each one, she said.

“As June’s pastor, I have been quite amazed at the desire of Mrs. Gambrell in making these masks for others,” Ashley said.