Local Ministries

Seamstresses join forces to produce masks

Curé of Ars, Leawood, parishioner Bernadette Kaplan started a campaign to make cloth face masks to protect those interacting with the public during the COVID-19 outbreak.

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

LEAWOOD — Curé of Ars parishioner Bernadette Kaplan here celebrated her recent birthday in quite an unusual way: She spent the entire day making face masks.

“You know how you get that tug on your heart when you feel the Holy Spirit is calling you to do something?” she asked. “You just kind of drop everything and go?

“I had that; there was no hesitation.”

A former nurse, Kaplan is married to a physician, has a son who is a physician and a daughter who is an audiologist working with patients during the pandemic.

She understands the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Bernadette Kaplan is utilizing her seamstress skills to help during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kaplan is also a talented seamstress; that’s why a neighbor gave her an article about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxing guidelines and allowing the use of cloth face masks.

“My neighbor just knew I had a stockpile of fabric from over the years,” she said. “I read the article and I thought, ‘Well, I could make these.’”

Filling a need

Kaplan texted her son who practices medicine in Chicago to ask if he thought there was a need.

“Absolutely,” he replied.

She started making masks and posting about the project on Facebook.

“And the minute I did,” she said, “I started getting texts from lots of friends saying, ‘Can I have two?’”

Kaplan turned out masks as quickly as she could. She put them in plastic bags labeled with recipients’ names and left them on her front porch — two per person, so one could be washed while the other was worn.

Kaplan puts the face masks in plastic bags labeled with recipients’ names and left them on her front porch for them to pick up.

And the requests kept coming. Many people with family and friends who had to interact with the public asked for masks. A physical therapy department asked for 35.

That’s when Kaplan reached out to the Holy Trinity Threaders, a prayerful group of seamstresses at Holy Trinity Parish, Lenexa.

Pat Wineland, who leads the group, said the task was perfect for the Threaders. To paraphrase the group’s favorite quote from St. Mother Teresa: “We can’t do great things, but we can do small things with love.” 

Threader Ann Piette suggested that the group make masks for priests and church staff first, so they could be safe continuing to minister to parishioners in need.

“Then, I suggested we make them for local urgent care facilities, police departments and fire stations,” she said.

“I’ve made about 50,” said Wineland. “And I got a call from a physical therapy office over on Nall that said they didn’t have any. So, they took 12.”

Spreading the word

The cloth face masks are not as effective as surgical masks or N95 masks, but they fill a need for people interacting with the general public. That helps preserve the supply of more filtration-efficient masks for doctors and nurses serving the sick.

Cloth face masks are not as effective as surgical masks or N95 masks, but they fill a need.

“The cloth masks aren’t medically standard,” said Piette. “But one of the hospital nurses said they use them over their (N95) masks so they can wash the fabric one and reuse the other.”

And the masks made by the Threaders have something extra sewn into them.

“You know we’re a praying group, and we pray when we sew,” said Wineland. “We pray for each person receiving the masks we make.”

It’s a practice Kaplan has adopted, too.

As the need has grown, so have the volunteers.

Since she started sewing cloth face masks, Kaplan has had several requests from individuals and organizations alike for the masks.

“I’m in a Bible study group at St. Ann [in Prairie Village],” said Kaplan. “They have a group called the Fidget Group and they, also, are starting to make masks.”

“One of our girls has recruited sewers from Holy Family Church to help us,” said Wineland.

A former Trinity Threader who moved to Florida, but stays in touch with the group, has begun recruiting seamstresses in her area to make masks.

“Our nation is learning a good lesson in how to work together,” said Piette. “It’s a message spreading around the world.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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1 Comment

  • Thanks for the article. I knew Bernadette several years ago and this is exactly her type of thing. Do you have a link to what pattern she used?

    Thank you & be safe!