When times get tough, the tough get sewing.​

That certainly has happened all over the country, where people are making masks to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus COVID-19.

And that is what’s happening at the Veterans Home of California-Lancaster, where one employee, along with another employee’s wife are among those making masks for the Home’s workers.

“I am grateful that we have staff and significant others who care enough to use their talents and quickly respond to a need,” Lancaster Home Administrator Elvie Ancheta said. “The staffs are sporting the colorful facial coverings that hide their smiles, but it is the new accepted vogue. You can still see the hopeful expressive eyes! And I also want to thank the community for donating more homemade masks for our team.”

Shahontas Washington

Shahontas Washington, an office assistant in the nursing department, started making them nearly a month ago, as it became apparent that masks ​would be needed by more and more people due to the pandemic.

Cheryl Shain, whose husband, Gary, is the Hospital General Services Administrator at the Lancaster Home, began making masks about two weeks ago.

“I was watching YouTube and they were talking about how hospitals needed them,” said Washington, who has worked at VHC-Lancaster since 2009.

So Washington began combing the internet for mask-making tutorials, to find designs that could be made quickly, and that would be comfortable to wear.

She settled on a material that is waterproof.

“I found material they use to make shopping totes, and bought a whole roll of it at Walmart,” she said.

The mask is reusable, and has a compartment for filter inserts.

“People started asking, ‘Would you make one for me?’” Washington said.

The Home provides the masks employees wear at work, but not what they need when they’re off duty.

Washington has made roughly three dozen so far, giving them to employees to wear to the grocery store, pharmacy, or anything else they might need to do to keep their families safe at home. And protecting the employees on the outside protects the veterans and co-workers inside VHC-Lancaster. ​

Cheryl Shain

Cheryl Shain took a different approach, making masks that fit over the N95 model that is considered to be among the best masks available. Her creations can also be used without the N95, covering most of the face and well down below the chin.

She knows her way around a sewing machine. Her regular job is to sell them inside the local JoAnne’s Fabrics store. But when Governor Gavin Newsom issued the stay-at-home order, the store was forced to close.

“We were deemed a non-essential business,” she said. So, she stayed home.

Her nursing student daughter needed masks, as did her daughter’s friend. Shain had stacks of fabric she’s saved from sewing projects over the years, and began making masks for them.

Just like that, a “non-essential” worker began making the masks that are essential to her daughter’s safety in the cardiac care unit of a local hospital.

Then her husband told her they could use about 30 masks at the Veterans Home. So, she made those, and kept making them because people keep wanting them. She’s produced 119 so far, with 80 going to the Veterans Home. 

“I’m helping in a small way,” Shain said. “I feel bad for all those people who have to be out. I get to stay home. I’m doing what I can.”

Both Shain and Washington plan to keep making them as long as the need persists, even beyond. It’s another example of how people step up to help others during a crisis.

Because when times get tough, the tough get sewing.

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