Western NC Volunteers Sew Thousands of Desperately Needed Masks to Help Rural Hospitals

Western NC Volunteers Sew Thousands of Desperately Needed Masks to Help Rural Hospitals

Graphic via Tania Lili for Courier

By Sue Wasserman

April 8, 2020

Joy Boothe knows actions speak louder than good wishes. 

When the Yancey County resident read about the growing shortage of N95 surgical masks, she sewed a dozen to donate to her healthcare provider friends. 

NC seamstress Faye Presnell gives a step-by-step tutorial on mask-making.

“When I made those first masks, my thought was that my providers could use them to cover their N95 masks and get a little more wear out of them,” she says. “After finishing, I posted a picture on Facebook. Friends immediately responded, asking how they could help.”

Those requests to lend a hand triggered the creation of the Yancey County Mask Makers. The mountainous, western NC county, population of roughly 17,800, is about 30 miles northeast of Asheville.

Boothe is leading the charge for the burgeoning group of volunteers who have, to date, sewed and donated more than 2,000 masks. 

Their masks have gone to organizations like the Blue Ridge Regional Hospital, Celo Health Clinic, Yancey County Health Department, area nursing homes and more. New requests are coming in daily.

“We’re just trying to help during this time when there’s such a shortage,” Boothe says.

“I feel a little like Rosie the Riveter, doing my part for the war effort.”

Deanna Blanchard, a volunteer mask maker in North Carolina’s Yancey County.

The group’s Facebook page conversations are lively. They range from how-to questions and advice, where volunteers like seamstress Faye Presnell offer step-by-step tutorials. Then there are requests from local organizations in need, mask and material drop-off and pick-up locations, sewing machine support, inspirational thoughts and success stories from other parts of the country.  

Volunteer Kathleen Soui even offered the group a little levity by reworking the lyrics to “Matchmaker” from the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“Mask maker, mask maker

Make me a mask

No need for frills

Just make it fast.”

There are two kinds of masks, Boothe notes. The first is 6 inches by 9 inches. The second fits over an N95 mask. They’re made of cotton that can be easily washed and ironed. And the group is careful to offer the disclaimer that they can’t guarantee the masks’ effectiveness. 

Boothe gathers materials in Yancey County and delivers completed masks. “I’m being as diligent as I can in following safety guidelines,” she says. “I sit in my car, for example, waiting for a volunteer to fill the container I’ve left in a field. Once they’ve gone, I go into the field to retrieve it.”

Without exception, Boothe says everyone, whether they’re sewing, cutting or simply making donations has indicated they’re grateful to help medical providers and the community. “This work has lifted their spirits and calmed their minds.”

Volunteer mask maker and glass artist Deanna Blanchard says it’s important for her to contribute. 

“I feel a little like Rosie the Riveter, doing my part for the war effort,” she says. 

While the group counts about two dozen active members, their public Facebook page has more than 200 members. And it’s inspired others, Boothe points out. Volunteers in neighboring Mitchell County created their own group. 

Financial donations, according to Boothe, are welcome and can be made online. Donors simply need to reference Yancey County Mask Makers.


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