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Stephanie Calliott holding masks

At the start of April, the COVID-19 Mask Force of Hampton Roads numbered fewer than 100 people.

By mid-April, more than 700 people were putting pedal to the metal (that is to say, the foot pedals of sewing machines), brandishing their shears, and donating fabric, wire, and funds to meet the need for thousands of masks to protect health care workers across the region. 

And by early May, just one month from the launch of the initiative, the Mask Force was 1,275 volunteers strong.

The surge over those weeks is partly due to pent-up desire to help out in this pandemic, but also to the enthusiastic recruitment efforts of Stephanie Adler Calliott '78, who started out as a fabric cutter but soon realized that her networking skills would be even more useful. “One thing I can do is organize and get people fired up to do things," she said with a laugh.

This effort will take a lot of firepower to accomplish: The group initially received requests for about 50,000 masks. “I usually say 30,000, because 50 sounds so big," Calliott said. The requests came from nearly every local hospital -- the Sentara Healthcare system, both Maryview and DePaul Medical Centers (part of Bon Secours), Chesapeake General, and Riverside Regional Medical Center -- as well as Eastern Virginia Medical School and Atlantic Shores Retirement Community.

Two types of masks are under construction:

  • Team Halyard makes masks from Halyard H600, a surgical grade material that can be sterilized and reused. These masks are distributed to medical workers treating or interacting with infected patients.
  • Team Cotton is providing cotton masks to organizations in the community where providers are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19, but caregivers are not actively treating patients with the illness.

On April 12, Calliott reported a tally of 1,549 masks created in a week. The work continued at a blistering pace, so that by May 5, she updated the tally to 17,600 masks.The group is on track to meet its current goal of producing 40,000 masks; some of the initial requests from hospitals have been adjusted downward, as masks became available from other sources.

Above all, the Mask Force needs people who can sew--and that has remained true from the start. If you've got a sewing machine, time to get it humming. However, those who are not sewers can help by cutting fabric (the group supplies the patterns); cutting copper and stainless steel wire; serving as drivers between distribution sites; and donating supplies or money. All funds are used to purchase supplies; labor is all volunteer.

Calliott asked NA to help spread the word after she read about mask creation by Sarah Glassman '25 on the school's Facebook page. Calliott has already recruited members of the Norfolk Academy family as volunteers. Her list includes alumni -- Latane Brown '78, Molly Ill '78, Debbie Addison '80, Robert Fink '70, Ellen Ellis '69, and Allison McDuffie '80, as well as parents of alumni -- Laura Gross, Terri Sarfan, Julianne Haycox, Dana Fink, and Debbie Grell. Bravo, Bulldogs!

In addition, the Norfolk Academy Bookstore donated some tee shirts, which are perfect, Calliott noted, for making mask straps, since elastic has been in short supply.

To jump into this effort, visit COVID-19maskforce.com or the group's Facebook page, COVID-19 Sewing Task Force for Hampton Roads.

Calliott holds masks

Stephanie Calliott '78 is recruiting volunteers for a massive local effort to make 50,000 masks to protect health care workers from COVID-19.

Calliott on her porch, cutting wire

When she's not recruiting, Stephanie Calliott '78 is cutting copper wire and fabric.

Molly Ill '78 has been busy sewing for the COVID-19 Mask Force.

Debbie Grell cuts fabric for masks

Debbie Grell, who is a coach for NA's crew team and is the parent of a Bulldog, is contributing to the COVID-19 mask force by cutting fabric.

Latane Brown cuts fabric

Latane Brown '78 is cutting fabric to make masks as part of the COVID-19 Mask Force.

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