ROGERSVILLE — As of Wednesday evening, Hawkins County had recorded a total of 30 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the crisis began last month, a number that undoubtedly could have been much higher were it not for the efforts of a dedicated group of local “sewing soldiers.”
On Wednesday, more than 50 Hawkins County volunteers who have been working in small groups for the past six weeks making protective face masks to help battle the spread of COVID-19 got together as one big group for the first time to be recognized for their efforts.
The final mask distributions were scheduled for Wednesday and this coming Friday at the Rogersville National Guard Armory, after which the county is supposed to be eligible for assistance from FEMA to provide face masks and other protective gear.
When the last of the locally produced masks are distributed Friday, the total number will exceed 11,000, which were handed out to approximately 100 organizations within the county that received anywhere from 10 to 500 masks each.
Their work apparently finished — at least for now — Hawkins County’s sewing soldiers gathered for a group photo Wednesday at the Rogersville armory, and Chamber of Commerce Director Nancy Barker expressed the community’s gratitude for their efforts.
“We want to thank you all so much for the job you did,” Barker said. “Every time they would stop by and give me the numbers of what you all had accomplished, I kept thinking, ‘They can’t do any better than this. But you did. We’ve got 11,187 masks made, and we want to thank you all. I’m absolutely astounded.”
Barker added, “When we first started this … we were worried about where we were going to get material. We worried about where we were going to get elastic. Y’all were innovative and came up with so many different ideas how to continue this project, and I just want to tell you how proud I am of everyone.”
The mask manufacturing effort was launched by Rogersville’s Project Serve Our Soldiers, along with members of the Happy Hearts Quilting Guild, but it quickly mushroomed into a countywide network of cutters and sewers.
Initially they made masks for Rogersville area police, fire and rescue first responders.
But as the program gained momentum, and the number of volunteers and materials contributions grew, they were able to supply masks to hospitals and medical clinics; courtroom staff and county office workers; drug stores; nursing homes; veterinarian offices; the local animal shelter; every police, fire and rescue agency in the county; and other miscellaneous essential businesses and services.
Project Serve Our Soldiers founder Corki Weart was the driving force behind the organization of the effort, and Barker specifically applauded Weart for her efforts.
“Thank you for your organizational skills,” Barker said. “She has probably put a million miles on her truck trying to get materials to people, to keep y’all sewing and cutting. I know you probably didn’t want to see her coming sometimes. But without each one of you all, none of this could have taken place, and we really appreciate all that you’ve done.”
Bill Hewitt, who organized distributions, was also singled out for his efforts, as well as Rogersville Police Department Chief Doug Nelson, who helped identify local agencies in need.
On Wednesday, volunteers distributed nearly 800 masks to a variety of groups including dentist offices, hearing aid centers, and other local business that are reopening this week.
Approximately 100 masks went to Dr. Timothy Gunnin from Rogersville Dentistry, which is reopening Monday.
“Dental masks are a one-time use only, and we go through them pretty quickly,” Gunnin told the Times News as he picked up his masks Wednesday. “Masks and gowns and those type of things have been forwarded on to the medical community because that’s the most important area initially. But as we open back up, our supply lines are pretty dried up, and right now anything we can get will help us bridge the gap where we’ll have something to work with until our supply lines are back up and running.”
Another 600 masks will be distributed Friday.
For more information on this subject click the following links:
1. Church Hill free clinic receives medical masks for making medicine deliveries
2. April 15, 2020 live stream
3. Hawkins 'sewing soldiers' surpass 3,800 medical masks delivered in three weeks
4. Hawkins volunteers distribute 500 free face masks despite elastic shortage
5. April 1 live stream
6. Hawkins volunteers need donations of elastic to continue making surgical masks
7. Rogersville's 'sewing soldiers' seek new recruits for surgical mask production