Church, volunteers sewing masks and providing childcare for medical personnel

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Volunteers from a Picayune church are sewing masks to donate to hospitals and providing free childcare to the families of medical workers.

First Baptist Church of Picayune members sewed approximately 500 facemasks to help healthcare workers facing a shortage of surgical masks, said Senior Pastor Tony Lambert. The sewing group began working on the masks last Tuesday after Dr. Delora Denney called the church and asked if seamstresses would be willing to make some facemasks. Denney approved a pattern and the sewing group set to work. The sewing group has few members, said Lambert, but more seamstresses in the community have joined the project to help make facemasks. Many are elderly women who are sewing the masks from their homes.

The church has given masks to local healthcare workers, including 100 masks to Highland Community Hospital and approximately 150 to a children’s hospital in New Orleans, said Lambert. The church has since limited the scope of its project to primarily provide masks for Picayune’s healthcare providers, including Highland Community Hospital.

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The masks are not a perfect solution, said Lambert, but all healthcare providers who have received them have said the home sewn masks are better than not having masks.

After a Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians press release about the volunteer mask making spread the information on Facebook, the church has received phone calls from people around the country requesting the mask patterns so they can sew their own.

Lambert said part of the church’s mission is to care for healthcare workers who are on the frontlines of the current public health crisis.

“We really felt we could not sit back and watch these people struggle. We felt we had to jump in the fire with them,” said Lambert.

On Monday the church opened a free daycare center for workers at Highland Community Hospital. Lambert had been reaching out to local healthcare providers to see what assistance the church could offer, and he received a call from Highland Community Hospital Regional Administrator Bryan Maxie. With schools closed, some of the hospital employees were struggling to find childcare.

The church recruited volunteers who were vetted through background checks. The volunteers had to be adults and had not been in populations that are considered at high risk from COVID-19.

The church found 25 volunteers, including a kitchen team to prepare meals for kids, a sanitation team to go through the building and sanitize daily and volunteers to care for the healthcare workers’ children. Volunteers are split in two shifts since the free daycare runs from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Kids are kept in small groups of five in separate classrooms and the church is striving to follow all CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the free daycare, said Lambert. The kitchen workers are sequestered from the rest of the building, again to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19.

On Monday the church took care of 21 children, and cared for 23 kids on Tuesday. There are 40 children receiving childcare in the program overall, but the daily number varies depending on the shifts of healthcare workers. The church has committed to offering the free childcare for two weeks, and then will reevaluate with the hospital administrators to see how well the childcare service is working.

Lambert said members of the church fully expect to continue providing childcare beyond two weeks, but volunteers needed a time frame in which they could opt out, so that volunteers would not become overwhelmed.