Jul 02, 2020 03:23PM
By Savannah Howe
One Osage woman’s efforts to help protect Mitchell County
For Osage native Becky Murphy, a childhood hobby became a community duty in the blink of an eye when personal protective equipment (PPE) demands spiked as a result of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year.
“It seemed like, one weekend, they were talking about mask shortages out in New York,” recalled Murphy, “and then all of a sudden people right here [in Mitchell County] were like, ‘we need masks here.’”
Murphy is a full-time paralegal by day at her husband’s law firm, Walk and Murphy PLC, since 1996 in Osage. Over the past several months, she has been a full-time seamstress by night as the founder of the Osage Sewing Group, through which she and over a dozen other sewers have generated thousands of fabric masks for local healthcare providers and the public.
Murphy is a self-taught seamstress who has been sewing since 12 years old; at one time she ran an Etsy business where she sold scarves and other hand-made fashion wares. When she saw on the news that the need for fabric masks— both locally and nationwide—was immediate, she started wondering what patterns were out there.
Turns out, Murphy said, other sewers in the Osage area had the same idea—lots of them. At its zenith, the Osage Sewing Group had 14 active seamstresses churning out masks daily.
The paralegal saw multiple other people on Facebook talking about sewing masks, and thought that everyone could make a bigger impact working as a collective whole rather than doing their own thing. So, in an effort to organize the seamstresses of Osage, Murphy posted online that she was going to form a sewing group and all were welcome.
“Everything happened so fast,” said Murphy. “People joined me from various walks of life. Some of them I knew well, some I barely knew, some not at all. But that didn’t matter, we all just formed this neat little group. Some were quilters, some were expert sewers, some hadn’t sewn in years but just wanted to help out however they could.”
The group didn’t exactly know where things were going to go or how, but they did know that they had a common skill that they wanted to put to good use. The sewers got to work contacting local nursing homes, the hospital and the public health department to gauge the need and the responses from the area.
For this little group of volunteers, receiving those responses could have been described as trying to take a drink from a fire hose.
“The need was...high,” Murphy laughed. “We knew right away we weren’t prepared to provide masks to the public because the medical field’s needs were so high. The nursing homes were in the greatest need, needing several masks for each resident. We didn’t want anyone to get missed, but as soon as we would get the masks for one place done another would be added to the list.”
The sewing group often delivered hundreds of masks to an organization at a time, with the clamor for masks available to the public growing all the while.
“Some of us worked full-time, though,” said Murphy. “Although some were retired, and some were not working [due to the pandemic]. We were still just doing what we could, when we could.”Murphy recollected getting up at 6:30 a.m. and getting as much sewing in as she could before needing to head to the law office for the day.
“It was a lot of early mornings and late nights,” she said, noting that the sewing, however, was just one rung on the ladder, and couldn’t be done without the rung below: finding supplies. “Elastic was in critically short supply. It took me hours of research online to find good elastic to order.”
The quilters in the group had relinquished their fabric and scrap stashes to the mask-making effort, but those reserves dried up quickly. With the need rising, businesses still calling and the public still inquiring, the Osage Sewing Group needed more. Murphy set up a GoFundMe with a request to the community for help, and the public responded with donations to make the masks possible.
When the needs of the medical community were finally met, the sewing group turned to the public. They decided to host a mask giveaway at Hardware Hank in Osage for anyone who needed masks.
“Looking back, I wish we could have kept track of how many masks we gave away that day,” said Murphy. “We were supposed to start handing them out at 10, and we showed up at 8:30 to set up and get organized. Well, we had a line as soon as we got there. It was such a good turnout.”
The sewing group, which sought to give away all of their masks for free, had a donation jar at the event for anyone who wanted to help the group with supplies.
“We decided early on that it would never be about making money,” Murphy continued, “and what was amazing about the people here locally is that we had people show up just to donate, people that didn’t even need masks.”
After the event at Hardware Hank, the public need was still insatiated, so the sewing group partnered with First Citizens Bank in Osage. The bank acted as a mask pick-up point for people to drive up and collect masks through the window.
In addition to their united front to serve the needs of the medical and public communities, Murphy said that many of the seamstresses were putting in even more volunteer hours to make masks for friends and family to have. The steady stream of requests has slowed down to a trickle over the weeks, and what was a 15-strong seamstress team is now just two or three putting in work where they need to.
“However, if things took, you know, a bad turn for [the community] health-wise, I have no doubt that this little group of ours would come back together in a heartbeat,” said Murphy. “I just want to say thank you, so much, to the sewers for coming with me on this ride, and for joining this neat little group and trusting that we could get it done. It has been truly a cooperative effort and a lot of hard work. I have enjoyed getting to know all of you that I didn’t know very well.
“And to the community, thank you, so much, for your support. Whether it be money, word of mouth or donating supplies, thank you. And a special thank you to First Citizens for helping up continue to get our masks out there to people who need them.”
The group is still making masks upon request. Four sizes are available to accommodate women, men and children.