The CDC has recently recommended that anyone who has to be outside of their homes maintains a six-foot distance from others and wears a face mask to slow the spread of the virus.

Amy Johnson is one of many people across the Archdiocese who has stepped up to help make masks during the coronavirus pandemic. (Submitted photo)

Long before the recommendation was given, though, healthcare systems and first responders in our area and across the country began to run out of the disposable masks they needed to keep them safe as they treated patients. As the crisis grew, and surgical and N95 masks became harder to come by, it was clear that an alternative was needed and that’s when all across the archdiocese, people began to step up.

For Amy Johnson, it started when her brother, who runs the clinic at St. Joseph’s Hospital West Bend, asked if she, along with her mother, Jane Johnson, could make face masks for his staff in case they ran out of the ones they normally used. Soon after, Amy Johnson, who is a K5 teacher at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Milwaukee, mentioned to her co-workers that they’d made about 35 masks and weren’t planning on stopping any time soon. They asked if she would consider making masks for the staff to wear while they handed out meals during the weekly lunch and packet pickup.

“The staff are helping our community by giving meals out to families in need and helping our students,” Jane Johnson said. “We wanted to help them by keeping them safe during this time.” Amy Johnson and her mother made 95 more masks, one for each of the Seton team. After the first few masks, Amy and her mom and dad, Tim Johnson, made an assembly line, cutting fabric, pinning the elastic, and ironing each mask. Her mom takes care of the sewing and pleating, her dad finalizes it by cutting off excess strings and gets them ready for boxing.

“This is a time where we all need to come together,” Jane Johnson said. “We need to be there for one another and think not just about ourselves but about everyone around us.”

When Kate Morgan, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s in Wauwatosa and co-owner of CharlieBear Handmades, along with her business partner Amy Anderson, were contacted by New Perspectives Senior Living Communities and asked to make masks in batches of 300, they knew they had to help even though it would take them away from their usual work.

“As seamstresses, we feel like it’s our responsibility to put our talents to work for the community,” Morgan said. With children home from school, and babies underfoot, Morgan and Anderson have worked late into the night to fulfill orders for the Senior Living Community and their customers who have turned to them for masks. Morgan says what gets her through these long days and nights is thinking of all the people who are buying masks for others.

“We’ll get orders people are sending to their friends who are nurses, or parents; it doesn’t feel like a business,” Morgan said. She feels like she’s standing shoulder to shoulder with so many others who are doing what they can to fight an invisible war.

Casandra Henningfeld, a St. Sebastian parishioner in Sturtevant, works as a speech language pathologist in an assisted living facility. In January, she gave birth to a daughter and has been on maternity leave ever since. Initially, she said she felt guilty that she was home while so many of her friends and co-workers were still risking exposure every day by going to work. She began praying a Coronavirus Novena and listing all her intentions, asking God to show her how she could help.

One of her friends who works in an emergency room was afraid that they were going to run out of masks; so Henningfeld made her some. Soon after, she made headbands with buttons to help the irritation on her ears from the elastic. Her work took off from there; she has donated her time and the masks to the emergency room at Ascension St. Joseph’s hospital, daycare workers, people who work for the police station, and many other friends and strangers who are required to wear masks for their jobs.

Mary Ann Davel said she isn’t counting how many masks she has sewn. “That isn’t what matters,” she said. “I say my rosary and thank God I can be helpful.”

Davel, who will celebrate her 85th birthday in June is known throughout her parish at Saint John Vianney for being a humble servant who is always willing to help. Over the years, she’s made wall hangings for the parish, altar covers, and the server’s albs, all while quietly saying that she deserves no credit. She comes from a long line of seamstresses and has been sewing as long as she can remember.

“My mother was a seamstress, my grandmother was a seamstress for the bishop here in Milwaukee at one time (and) my great grandmother was a seamstress,” she said. She sewed as she spoke of all of the scary things she remembers, the Polio epidemic, World War II, and her parents’ stories of the Great Depression, saying this virus isn’t the worst thing we’ve withstood as a civilization, and it won’t sink us.

If you’d like to use your skills to contribute to the cause of making homemade masks, visit the archdiocese’s website to find all of the local healthcare systems and the specific patterns each needs, and learn how to safely deliver your donations: