DANVILLE — Three area women have been sewing face masks — totaling close to 1,000 — and are prepared to sew even more now that Gov. JB Pritzker has mandated the use of face masks in public places where 6-foot social distancing can’t be maintained.

Maria Hillard of Grape Creek, Helen Shouse of Westville and Dina Swanson, a nurse practitioner in Danville, are spending long hours sewing enough masks to cover the community.

“I’m still going, especially since the governor extended it,” Hillard said.

The Grape Creek resident said she started sewing cloth masks about a month or more ago and, as of Friday night, she had made 745 masks and had a waiting list of 50 more masks to be made.

“I started making them with a Facebook group, but then I got involved with Mask America, which is a group of about 1,000 who are making 75,000 masks in 28 days for just for healthcare workers across the United States and in hard-hit areas like New York, Florida and California,” she said. “They gave us fabric for free and the straps for free.

“I’ve sent masks to North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas,” she said, adding that she FaceTimed with a woman in South Carolina who wanted to express her appreciation after receiving one of Hillard’s masks.

“It makes you smile to make someone happy with something so simple,” she said.

Lately Hillard has been more focused on making hundreds of masks for the community.

Hillard’s masks are being worn at the Community Action Program in Covington, Ind., Danville Correctional Center, Carle Clinic, OSF Bobette Steely Hegeler Cancer Care Center, Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System and KIK Custom Products, where she used to work.

“I spend about eight hours a day on the sewing machine,” she said. “I have to protect these people. I just want to help the community.”

Most of Hillard’s mask orders come from her Facebook page and word of mouth. She offers no-contact pickup by placing the completed mask orders in her rural mailbox.

“When the governor extended the stay-at-home order (Friday), I had about five different texts from people wanting to order masks,” she said.

“A man from Potomac ordered 50 masks and took them to a nursing facility in Avon, Ind., where his dad was,” she said. “I also had to do funeral masks. I think I made 25 for those people.”

Now that Hillard is making masks for local residents, she has been purchasing fabric from Threads of Time in Danville and the cost for supplies is starting to add up.

“Fabric is pretty expensive, and I use good quality quilting fabric,” she said. “I just paid $160 for eight yards.

“It’s costly,” she lamented. “I think I’ve spent about $500 in material.”

Hillard’s family has been supportive of her efforts.

“I told them, ‘Hey, if you can take care of the family, I can take care of the community,’” she said.

“My sister wants me to push and make 1,000 masks, but I don’t think this old lady has it in her,” she joked.

Her son, Troy Morman, sent her a brand new, self-threading Singer sewing machine from his home in Georgia that has made her sewing easier.

“You know, I’m really a crocheter,” Hillard confided. “I hadn’t picked up a sewing machine in five years.

“After this is over, I don’t think I want to see a sewing machine ever again,” she joked.

NEEDLING PRACTITIONER

Swanson, who has been a nurse practitioner in Danville for years, just opened an independently owned clinic, Swanson Family Practice at 733 N. Logan Ave., at the end of February with her husband Jon, who is a respiratory therapist.

“I used to work for Christie and Carle, so I have a soft spot for Danville,” she said, adding that she recognized the area’s need for more medical professionals.

But with COVID-19 limiting the number of patients coming to the new clinic for appointments, Swanson said she decided to channel her energy into making masks to protect her patients and others in the community.

“I love crafting, so since we’re slow and not seeing a lot of patients, I started sewing masks,” she said. “I put it out on Facebook and I got 200 messages from people wanting masks.

“I have a sewing machine in my living room, and I’ve spent a good eight to 10 hours on it,” she said.

Swanson admitted she didn’t know how to sew before embarking on the project but learned by watching a YouTube video.

So far, Swanson has made 100 masks, some of which have been reserved for the people who ordered them through the Swanson Family Practice Facebook page and some will be available to whoever needs one.

She plans to continue sewing masks and making them available on Wednesdays and Fridays on a table in front of clinic so it can be contactless.

“The masks will be in zip lock bags, and they can come to the table to find their name if they ordered one or take one without a name,” she said. “I will try to accommodate as many people as I can.”

BUSY IN WESTVILLE

Helen Shouse of Westville said she started making masks after being asked by a friend who is a nurse at the OSF cancer center, but now word has gotten out about her sewing prowess and the mask orders have been rolling in.

“Everyone is supposed to be wearing them now, and different people know I’m making them,” she said. “I’m up to a 100 now. I try to make them colorful and double-sided.”

Shouse said she called upon her “group of quilting gals” to also make masks for the community.

Although some of the mask-making supplies are starting to become scarce locally, Shouse said she is well stocked with the goods needed.

“The good thing is I have a good supply of elastic,” she said. “I’ve got so much scrap fabric, I could make a million of them.”

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