ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — At 92, Rose Frenkel, an avid quilter, shows no sign of slowing down and definitely doesn’t like staying at home.
Her normal week consists of shopping, going to the casino, hanging out with family and sewing. So when COVID-19 crossed the New Mexico border, the elderly woman found herself with little to do. That’s when the call came. Her family and friends around the country are still having to go to work, many without masks.
Frenkel lives with her daughter Jacqueline Tarrichone, who recently moved back to New Mexico. Her children and grandchildren are working at Costco in Seattle.
“They were calling to say it was so crazy and how people were fighting (at Costco),” Tarrichone said. “They were there working with no masks.”
They were requesting masks. Both women are active quilters and already had a lot of material on-hand. They immediately got to work. Tarrichone does the cutting and assembling and Frenkel does all the sewing. They shipped out their first batch of about 70 masks to family members in both Washington state and California. The requests kept coming. To date, the women have made about 300 masks.
They start their mask-making sessions every day about 8 a.m. and go well into the evening. Frenkel, whose son-in-law has been hospitalized with COVID-19 in Nevada, said it’s become a great distraction.
“We started with family but now all our friends want them,” Frenkel said. “One night we even went until 10 p.m. I’m glad we have this. It’s keeping us busy and we enjoy it.”
All over Albuquerque, individual sewists are stepping up to make masks for loved ones, friends, healthcare workers and other first responders due to a nationwide shortage. Last week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recommended that everybody wear masks while in public to prevent the spread of the virus. The majority of homemade masks will not protect wearers from contracting the virus, but they will help prevent an infected person, especially one who is asymptomatic, from passing it along to others.
“This is a call to help that us ordinary citizens can answer,” said organizer Rebecca Snyder. “It’s something we can do because we feel so helpless.”
Snyder, who works with the Quelab makerspace, was asked to help the city’s Emergency Operation Center, coordinate local mask-making efforts along with Hip Stitch, a local fabric store. Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Lt. Brian Fox is in charge of logistics for the center and put a call out on Facebook for local sewists and other volunteers.
Fox said the masks will be distributed to firefighters and other essential workers who still have to interact with each other and the public.
“They are not medically sterile masks and can’t be used for patient care,” he said. “This is a proactive approach. … it will prevent spreading especially if someone is a carrier and you are working in tight spaces.”
Hip Stitch is providing the fabric for the masks and a no-touch drop-off location for anyone who is making masks. He said the masks will be sterilized, individually bagged and dispersed where they are needed most. He said the city hopes to collect between 4,500 and 5,500 masks.
“Those people with the talent, we are asking them to chip in and help,” Fox said. “The city of Albuquerque thanks you.”
Sewists needing fabric can contact Fox at 244-8604. Drop-offs are Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hip Stitch, 2320 Wisconsin Street NE. Volunteers can also visit quelab.net and click on #nmMakesMasks link at the top of the page to get a pattern for the masks.
Hip Stitch owners Steve Hamlin and Suzanne Kelly said they are selling their fabric at cost to those making masks. In addition to their efforts with the city, they are also donating masks to hospitals within the Navajo Nation, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. New Mexico, Arizona and Utah are all home to the Nation. Tribal leaders have enacted an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew but continue to see a rise in cases.
Sandra Eichenberg, a seamstress who owns Quilts Olé in Corrales, began her own mask-making efforts about three weeks ago after she had to lay off her 10 employees and temporarily shutter her business following a state directive that all non-essential businesses close their doors. She said the quilting community has really responded to the need.
“Lots and lots of my customers are making masks out of fabrics they have at home,” she said. “On Wednesdays, I go to the shop, hang a bag outside and they drop them off. There’s lots and lots of people behind this. It really touched my heart.”
Eichenberg said she has donated the masks to home healthcare agencies, nursing homes and clinics. The Rio Rancho fire department requested 200 masks, she said.
Seamstress Rachel Veronica owns Superior Tailoring & Alterations on Coors and also had to close her business but she found a demand for her skills when people she knew started asking her to make masks. Ann Silva’s Sewing Center recently donated fabric to her efforts. She’s making about 200 masks she will donate to health-care workers and selling individual masks for $15 each.
“There’s such a huge need,” she said. “Right now I’m trying to keep it local and not sending any out of state.”
Visit superioralterationsnm.com to purchase a mask. Veronica is taking orders by phone, email and on Etsy.
As for Frenkel, she’s keeping herself isolated and will march onward, making masks until no more are needed or until they run out of material.
“We will continue,” she said. “We have a lot to make. We are not stopping.”