Members of the Neland Stitchers group at Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church, in Grand Rapids, Mich., have so far sewn more than 5,000 face masks for use during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They began their mission to help meet the need for masks after a local physician shared her concern that there would not be an adequate supply of protective masks. Using a pattern recommended by the Spectrum Health Foundation, they began to sew in March and have committed to continue until there is no longer a need.
Mary Kuiper, organizer of the mask project, said, “Our corner of the city is in one of the highest concentrations of COVID(-19) cases. If we care about those around us, we need to see to their safety.” Stitcher Karen Weaver added, “We are in a small corner of a very large crisis. What can we do? How can our hands be the hands of Christ? We sew.”
The group has distributed their masks to anyone who needs them, including local medical facilities, community centers, missions, and homeless shelters. They’ve shared them with police officers, to carry extra in their squad cars, and bus drivers. Masks were added to activity bags for summer community programs, and sent to Rehoboth Hospital in Gallup, N.M., and to Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.
Kuiper’s porch is a main distribution hub, and non-stitching members of the congregation often hand out masks as well.
Kuiper said her porch has become “a hopping place” as the more than two dozen stitchers drop off completed masks and pick up materials, and those needing masks—sometimes waiting in their cars for the porch to clear—retrieve packs of masks from organized bins. Kuiper and the church administrator, Lisa Genzick, write and include in each pack a note of blessing from the church.
The stitchers were glad, Kuiper said, to put their own leftover fabric to good use, and other Nelanders provide additional fabric and underwrite some of the costs. Often community members leave cash on Kuiper’s porch as a thank-you when picking up masks, and the group has received notes of thanks from grateful organizations and from individuals.
The Neland Stitchers previously participated in a 2019 Grand Rapids ArtPrize installation fabric-wrapping art project.