homemade masks for Covid-19

Homemade masks help healthcare heroes

May 12, 2020
Empower Features

Homemade masks help healthcare heroes

Christy Lepine never thought those old sewing skills from her childhood would come in this handy.

Then again, she never thought the COVID-19 crisis would get this out of hand.

So, as the novel coronavirus began to spread throughout the East Coast, Lepine took a trip down memory lane — and decided to use her long-lost passion to make a long-lasting impact in her community.

“Watching the news on a nightly basis, and seeing what was going on, was a helpless feeling,” said Lepine, an Empower lead participant services representative who lives in Nashua, New Hampshire. “I hadn’t really sewn in years, but as soon as it started to migrate its way here, I wanted to do my part.

“I wanted to do something.”

And it’s something the entire staff at the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center will likely always remember.

Partnering together with her mom, Lepine recently designed, stitched and provided more than 40 cloth masks to help protect the healthcare workers at her local hospital. On top of that effort, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommending that all Americans wear a sufficient face covering in public1, she stretched her charitable spirit even further by crafting an additional 30 homemade masks for close friends, family members and neighbors.

“We kept hearing more and more people needed masks,” said Lepine, who has worked for Empower since 2015 and performs her role remotely. “Those were something I could make and stay safe while doing it. I was happy to help our medical personnel while social distancing at home.”

But Lepine’s generosity didn’t end there.

In the giving mood during such an unforgiving period, Lepine also made a financial donation to a nearby soup kitchen so she could take advantage of the company’s current double-the-match offering. Through its internal Associates Community Together (ACT) program, Empower is contributing $2 for every $1 associates commit to an approved nonprofit organization of their choice (from April 1 to May 31).

“It has been a real joy to watch associates go above and beyond for their communities,” said Angie Ruddell, engagement and corporate social responsibility manager. “The 2-to-1 match is a fantastic example of how Empower employees are living and driving our values. I’ve seen incredible collaboration and leadership as we all continue to do the right thing to help those in need.”

For Lepine, “doing the right thing” turned out to be a thing of beauty.

After calling her mom to talk about all the different ways they could get involved to support the individuals on the frontlines of the pandemic, Lepine visited the website for the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center for more ideas. That’s where she noticed the institution was looking for masks in a very specific type, pattern and style to help keep their stock full — and crew healthy.

“I can’t imagine the volume of required gear they’re going through to protect themselves and their patients,” Lepine said. “That’s something we usually don’t have to think about, so I was ready to help.”

Without any fabric in the house, Lepine ordered several king-size bedsheets with high thread counts from Amazon to serve as the main material. “All the stores were closed at that point, so I had to get creative,” she said. “I was able to have all the supplies delivered straight to my door.”

From there, Lepine dusted off her seldom-used sewing machine, gathered every essential piece and set up an assembly line — and then followed a step-by-step process to cut, clip and complete each mask. Once every seam was perfect, Lepine dropped the collection off at her mom’s house so she could add the elastic ear band as the final touch before bringing them to the hospital.

“We always work well together,” said Lepine, noting that she and her mom have a history of volunteering at their local church and raising money for special events. “We really make a great team.”

Sure, it was a more advanced operation than when she was 6 and transformed washcloths into slippers to give as Christmas presents. But with so many healthcare professionals across the country facing a shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment), Lepine was proud to join the fight.2

Every stitch of the way.

“I’m fortunate I had a skillset to help them,” said Lepine, whose sewing resume also includes a modest selection of clothes, quilts and dolls. “They were really, really grateful for the gifts we shared.

“It felt good to lend a hand.”



1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Recommendation Regarding the Use of Cloth Face Coverings, Especially in Areas of Significant Community-Based Transmission,” 2019, cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html.

2 TIME magazine, “Begging for Thermometers, Body Bags, and Gowns: U.S. Health Care Workers Are Dangerously Ill-Equipped to Fight COVID-19,” 2020, time.com/5823983/coronavirus-ppe-shortage

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