Pelham sewing community stitches medical masks to support local hospitals


Health care workers wear masks made in Pelham.

About a week ago, Pelham Together heard that a hospital in Rhinebeck needed medical masks, and word soon came that many health care providers in the community had the same problem. Pelham Together, the Junior League of Pelham and the Pelham Civics started a campaign to get local people to make the masks.

“The homemade masks do not replace the need for the medical-grade masks, but the current recommendation is that something is better than nothing to keep health care workers safe from contracting the virus,” said Laura Caruso, executive director of Pelham Together.

As of Wednesday, the Pelham Together had effort distributed more than 340 homemade masks, as well as 140 N95 masks, 400 non-surgical masks and 600 gloves, according to a Facebook post by Sandra Zupicich Ritossa.

“The network has expanded outside Pelham Together as well,” she wrote. “Many many Pelhamites are joining us to help our first responders.”

Homemade medical masks that were stitched in Pelham.

Mary-Ann Ciccotelli, sewing teacher and creator of Sewing and Beyond, saw on the Moms of Pelham Facebook group a posting seeking people to sew medical masks. She jumped at the chance to help her community.

“We are hoping that this a temporary fix and the companies will ramp up production,” said Ciccotelli.

On Sunday, a doctor who lives in Pelham Manor posted to that a local hospital would run out of the N95 masks “in the next few weeks,” while the Patch reported Westchester’s Open Door Medical Family Center is “desperately seeking” masks and other protective gear.

When the idea starting taking off, Ciccotelli said she knew that people would need a place to find tutorials for medically approved masks. In the past couple of weeks, Ciccotelli made sample masks and sent them to a doctor friend to get them evaluated. She has now created a template and tutorial for medical masks similar to the manufactured ones.

“The thought of little sweatshops popping up all over Pelham, it warms my heart,” said Ciccotelli. “It’s kind of like back in World War Two, when everyone is doing what they can.”

Patricia Knickerbocker and her daughter Ava also got involved. Patricia helps run lunchtime enrichment sewing programs at the elementary schools, while Ava is in ninth grade at Pelham Memorial High School.

“The medical masks offer protection to those heroes, and I want to do my part in helping them as much as possible,” said Ava Knickerbocker. “Even for the average person, medical masks are quite important when leaving the house as well.”

In a March 20 press release, JOANN Stores said it will be opening up classrooms while adhering to social distancing “to any who want to help make these essential items.” Guidance is being provided, the company said. The chain will also bring ordered materials out to cars if customers phone ahead.

“The amazing thing about the crafting community is that, especially in difficult times, they are always looking for a way to help,” said Wade Miquelon, president and CEO of JOANN.

Pelham is donating masks to multiple hospitals, including NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center, Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, Montefiore Hospital New Rochelle, Montefiore Medical Center Moses Division, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, St John Hospital, Empress EMT and the Pelham School District.