Sisters face pandemic head-on

Protective face masks sewn, donated to St. Paul Elder Services, St. Rita Health Care

ALLOUEZ — The coronavirus pandemic has heightened the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) at care facilities. In response, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc put their talents to work.

St. Paul Elder Services in Kaukauna, a Franciscan-based community whose services include long-term care and skilled nursing, contacted the Manitowoc sisters on March 19 to request face masks. Production started immediately.

Franciscan Sr. Linda Brandes sews face masks at the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity motherhouse in Manitowoc March 25 while Sr. Marcus Steede irons them. The sisters made 100 face masks for St. Paul Elder Services in Kaukauna and 200 for St. Rita Health Care at Holy Family Motherhouse, which serves elderly and infirmed sisters. (Sr. Mariella Erdmann | Special to The Compass)

“When St. Paul sent us the request, they also sent a pattern, but we altered it to make it work,” said Franciscan Sr. Linda Brandes, who worked on the project as part of a group of sisters.

The cloth face masks they produced, which are not intended to replace the N95 masks used in hospitals, are hand washable. Warm & Natural brand batting, a nonwoven material, was used as a liner.

“They use it to make quilts,” said Sr. Linda in a phone interview with The Compass. “It added a little warmth to the mask, but also serves as a filter. It helps to block outside germs.”

Pipe cleaners were used on the tops to help shape the masks to fit.

“On a regular mask that you buy, it has a top where you can mold it to your nose,” explained Sr. Linda. “We had to cut all the ends of the pipe cleaners” (to make sure no one would get scratched).

Sr. Linda noted the team effort included a number of sisters who are currently students at Holy Family College in Manitowoc.

“They came full force,” she said. “Some of them could sew. First, they were cutting out and getting the pieces ready.”

One potential hurdle was a shortage of elastic.

“We put out an SOS for quarter-inch elastic,” said Sr. Linda. “One of our sisters who works at St. Francis Convent said that she would ask over there. We were able to collect enough. More people are getting into (making face masks). Word is out there looking for elastic. That’s where the shortage may come.”

The sisters finished making face masks on March 25 — 100 for St. Paul Elder Services and 200 for St. Rita Health Care at Holy Family Motherhouse, which serves elderly and infirmed sisters. The 200 masks will be used by the staff at St. Rita and kitchen and housekeeping at the motherhouse.

The sisters had some fun making the face masks. A variety of colorful and patterned fabrics were used.

“Some of the material was Halloween. We also used some whimsical Christmas material,” said Sr. Linda. “It will bring smiles to people’s faces.”

Staff members in Kaukauna are grateful for the masks, said Franciscan Sr. Cecilia Joy Kugel, who serves as community specialist at St. Paul Elder Services.

“Associates started wearing them on (March 25). We put the masks on right away when we take our temperatures before beginning work,” she explained. “There is a bin to place used masks at the end of the shifts to be washed and ready the next day. The residents like seeing the different designs. It definitely adds some brightness to a serious situation.”

The project was the first time for making face masks, but not the first sewing effort for the sisters, said Sr. Linda.

“Our nurses at our college (Holy Family) go to Haiti. The last two years, we’ve made washable sanitary pads,” she offered as an example. “If we can make it work, we can try to do it.”

Sr. Linda is grateful for the fast turnaround time on the masks.

“We had many, many hands at work” she said. “The thank you goes out to everybody who helped and the people who are out there now making them too.”