Grassroots Chattanooga mask makers step up for frontline workers, family members

Photo from Anna Conrad / A selection of masks made by St. Elmo resident Anna Conrad.

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for personal protective equipment caused severe shortages of surgical face masks. With manufacturers unable to meet demand and hospital workers pleading for help, a cottage industry involving homebound sewers sprang up.

JoAnn fabric stores spearheaded one initiative. On March 23, the company opened its in-store classrooms, mindful of social distancing, to anyone who could help make essential items to donate to hospitals. Sewers had the use of sewing machines, materials and guidance to churn out these handmade supplies. Kits also were available for pickup for sewers to contribute to the effort from home.

In June, the company announced that more than 200 million masks had been made and donated. The next initiative is Masks for Schools. For every purchase of a premade mask, the company will donate one to a school in need.