'I'll do what I can for as long as I can:' Chandler photographer turns to making masks for health care workers

Melissa Shumway is keeping herself busy making masks for those working on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak. (Courtesy Melissa Shumway)
Melissa Shumway is keeping herself busy making masks for those working on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak. (Courtesy Melissa Shumway)

Melissa Shumway is keeping herself busy making masks for those working on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak. (Courtesy Melissa Shumway)

A year ago Melissa Shumway bought fabric and a sewing machine to make custom camera straps for her photography business. Her initial plan was waylaid, but a year later she found herself with a craft room full of fabric and a sewing machine that she has been putting to use during the coronavirus outbreak, making free masks for health care workers.

"I can't help but think God knew that there was going to be a need," Shumway said. "I thought to myself, 'Wow, I have all this fabric and a brand new sewing machine—I am meant to help however I can.' It was all for a reason. Why else would I have all this fabric laying around?"

Health care workers across the country have been staring down a shortage of personal protective equipment during the viral outbreak. Arizona has established a private-public partnership to bring more protective medical gear, like masks, into hospitals and other medical facilities. Still, Shumway is fielding request after request for one of her masks.

"I didn't realize it was going to get this big," Shumway, who is also a Chandler resident, said. "I thought the request for these would die down, and it really hasn't—it's ramped up. Everybody sending me a request has a personal story behind it and every time I see a new one I just think, 'I've got to help these people.' I thought I had it bad, but I had no idea."

Shumway sits in her craft room for several hours in the morning, usually making about 20 masks—with thick fabric and elastic for behind the ears—in four hours. She started out by sending them to her sisters in the medical field in Oregon and California. Now, she's getting requests from friends of friends in Arizona and in other states across the country. She said she has already made deliveries to Paper Cranes Healthcare, Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, Phoenix Children's Hospital, HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center and has created batches of two for individuals.

"I did put it out that I would love for these to go to hospitals first, just because of volume," Shumway said. "But honestly at this point, I am turning no one away, I am doing as many as I can."



And she has gotten some help along the way. When Shumway faced a shortage of the elastic she needs, she put out a post on social media with her home address and a plea for more elastic. Now, she wakes up in the morning and has elastic outside her front door.

"It’s been beautiful," she said. "I call them my elastic fairies."

She plans to continue making masks for as long as there is a need, she said.

"I’ll do what I can for as long as I can, and in the meantime if we can save even just a couple of lives somehow, or protect a couple of lives somehow, that makes it worth it," Shumway said. "I think we’ll be OK, I have a positive outlook on life. We just need to support each other and do what we personally can. If sewing is what I can do and if there’s a need for that, then that’s what God gave me that gift for."

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