Alfred State Employees Working On Face Masks

May 5, 2020

From Alfred State College Spokesperson Jeff Cole:

While Alfred State continues to produce face masks on campus from 3D printers, several college employees are also helping out by sewing masks from home during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Lynda Merring, a nurse in Health and Wellness Services, is sewing masks when she can, in addition to her regular job duties and volunteer work. “My dining room table is both my desk and sewing center at the moment,” she said. “I have been providing masks for the campus, as well as family and friends.”

Dr. Alex Bitterman, professor and chair of the Architecture and Design Department, has been making what he calls “Franciscan Masks” after St. Francis, who said, “If you start by doing what is possible, soon, you will be doing what seems impossible,”

“They’re made from scraps and donated fabric, some of which has been donated by Alfred State College alumni and Emeritus Professor Rex Simpson and his wife, Karen,” Bitterman said.

Cyan Corwine, coordinator of International Education, said she began making masks for family members several weeks ago using random scraps and patterns she found online. She tests her masks by making sure they pass the “candle test” – not being able to blow out a candle through the mask.

“Once you figure out the design that works best with your materials, the process doesn’t take terribly long, but anything that I’ve made so far has happened in the wee hours of the morning at what my husband lovingly refers to as ‘a-billion-o’clock’ – when my son and I wake pre-dawn and enjoy each other’s company and conversation over coffee and hot chocolate,” she said. “My time is not uninterrupted, so I just make masks when it fits in with our home-bound lives.”

Because of the shortage of elastic, Merring modified the pattern she found online so that she could use flat elastic hair ties as a replacement. Merring also noted that she sewed a piece of flexible metal into her masks, which can be shaped over the wearer’s nose.

“The CDC recommends 100 percent cotton or T-shirt material, so I have been using material I have been able to buy locally, as well as gently used T-shirts from our closets,” she said.

In addition to the material from her own home, Corwine has also been using T-shirts to make masks, including five extra-large shirts she received from Alfred State.

“The five shirts have been turned into 35 masks and returned to campus for use as needed,” she said.

The Franciscan Masks that Bitterman has been creating are simple to make and were inspired by a pediatrician in Buffalo, who started making them at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Anyone who can sew a straight line can make them with supplies that most folks have around the house,” he said.

So far, Bitterman has made 600 masks that have been distributed far and wide across western and central New York, as well as the Southern Tier. He has sent batches to Buffalo General Hospital, Gates Vascular Institute, Roswell Park, nursing associations and nursing homes in the upstate area, and The Little Portion Friary – an outreach organization that helps deliver meals to the homeless. He has also sent more than 65 masks to Alfred State for faculty and students who remain on campus.

Like all Pioneers, Merring, Corwine, and Bitterman are happy to do their part to make a difference during the present situation.

“I feel fortunate to have the ability to sew and provide masks for the community, and hope that, in some small way, I am helping to make a difference,” Merring said.

Corwine noted that COVID-19 has everyone figuring out the best ways to help or cope during this trying time, whether it’s making masks or something else.

“Discovering ways to fill up our personal wellness cups is important,” she said. “For some, that may be managing to get dressed in ‘real clothes’ while juggling a new complex reality. For others, they may feel like their work is now in overdrive and a moment to sit and reflect in silence is what is called for. Personally, at least in this moment, making these masks in the quiet early hours when I am able, is one of my cup-fillers and helps me feel connected to a wider community in need.”

A small effort, Bitterman said, can make such a difference to so many.

“The masks I’ve made have gone to hospitals, nursing homes, and other front-line caregivers across western and central New York and the Southern Tier,” he said. “It’s a small gesture that helps to keep us all healthy.”

Caption: Pictured are face masks created by Dr. Alex Bitterman, professor and chair of the Architecture and Design Department at Alfred State. Bitterman is one of several Alfred State employees who are making face masks from home.

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