In the worst of times, the best of people shine through. That is how to describe Operation Parish Hands, a mask-making outreach ministry currently under way at the yoked parishes of St. Columba in Columbia and the Church of the Holy Family, Hebron.
Within days after the state directed that people begin wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the parish’s mask-making operation was under way with almost 100 parishioners involved. A flyer distributed to all parishioners announcing the project said it all, “Let us be Easter people in this time of need.” And Easter people they are.
“Our parish has always been apostolic in reaching out to others,” Pastor, Reverend Michael Phillippino said. “This is more of the same.”
Nicole Bernier, music ministry director for the parish, is spearheading the project. In just three weeks, the ministry completed and distributed more than 500 masks and is well on its way to making more, she said. “Once the word got out, we had volunteers ready to go,” she said. “Service is a real hallmark of our parish. Where there is a need we strive to meet it.”
She created a list of tasks that needed to get done and the volunteers who could complete them. These include: those donating materials; the laundry team who wash and iron fabrics; cutters who size the material and elastic; those assembling materials into kits; those who sew; those inserting filters into the masks; and the packaging and delivery teams.
Parishioner Jean Terza, who Bernier called a ‘master sewer,’ created a YouTube video for the sewers that demonstrates how to make the masks. “Everyone has their job and it goes along smoothly. As long as we have people willing to help, we will continue to do this,” she said. The group has now ventured into making clear masks for sign language interpreters so that their mouths are visible as they form words, which is a key component of their interpretation skills.
The parish is a ‘buzz of activity,’ yet according to Bernier, none of the volunteers come in contact with one another. Everyone works from home. They arrive individually to the Cry Room at Holy Family Church, which has been converted to a makeshift production facility, to pick up the materials they need and later drop them off when their part of the project is done.
Retiree Carol Puckett, a member of the St. Columba Parish Community, is one of the many sewers who answered the call for help. “I wanted to help stop the spread of the virus and do something positive in such a negative environment,” she said. “Through this ministry we are taking up the battle against the virus using the talents God gave each of us to do this wonderful thing and make a difference.” Although she is isolated from the parish community and doesn’t know who the other members of the team are, she said she feels connected to them. “As I sew, I think about all of the people contributing to this project and I feel less isolated and less alone. I am grateful for the opportunity to help and be a part of this.”
Every parishioner requesting a mask has received one. In addition, masks have been given to every resident at Colebrook Assisted Living Facility in Hebron and another order is in production for residents at Douglas Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in nearby Windham. The parish is also providing masks to local sister churches, the soup kitchen and other organizations. Bernier noted that as long as the donations for materials continue to come in and the team continues to volunteer, masks will be made for those who need them.
Anyone needing a mask can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, address, number of masks needed and the gender of the recipients. The masks are free, but the group welcomes donations, specifically the following: any type of washed and ironed fabric material (100% cotton works best); ¼ or 1/8 th inch elastic; spools of thread in any color; and Ziploc bags for package delivery.
Article By Mary-Jo McLaughlin