When DMPS issued its preliminary Return to Learn plan earlier this month it noted that “strong community partnerships” would be a key element. It also mandated an unprecedented item for school supply lists in 2020-21: protective face masks.

Those two points were the Des Moines Area Quilters Guild’s cues.

Like so many other organizations and enterprises across the country, the DMAQG has seen its 2020 events calendar upended by the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis. The group’s website details the havoc. The July meeting: cancelled. The August Charity Auction & Mall in the Hall: cancelled. The 2020 Quilt Show, originally scheduled for September: postponed indefinitely.

But the quilters are not sitting idle, twiddling thimbles. Like an assembly line geared to the manufacture of some mundane machinery converting to the production of vital ventilators during the pandemic, the quilters are busy stitching together masks by the thousands for distribution to DMPS students in time for the start of school next month.

Melissa Stalvey is the school nurse at Greenwood Elementary School, and the district’s liaison with the quilters.

“Myself and a few of my counterparts at other schools rallied around making masks,” she said. “We all made a few masks for our individual families, colleagues, and staff. It quickly became apparent that this would be a staggering project if we were looking to mask all DMPS students and/or staff.”

“My supervisor, (DMPS Health Services Supervisor) Diane Gladson, connected me with Josh Brown, the DMEA president,” Stalvey added. “DMAQG had reached out to Josh about making masks for DMPS. I contacted them and we discussed what the potential need might be. I was afraid when I mentioned the number they would say, ‘No way – too many!’ But the response was completely the opposite. They are up for the challenge.”

Kim Peterson is a board member in charge of membership development for the DMAQG and a retired high school chemistry and physics teacher. She’s coordinating the quilting/masking bee on their end.

“The DMAQG is pretty excited to be making face masks for the kids that are heading back to school soon,” Peterson said. “We are a group that’s been committed to helping our community for a long time by making and donating quilts.  We have adjusted our focus and are using our skills to make home-sewn masks from quilter cotton fabrics.”

The guild has made thousands of masks for other organizations/agencies in recent months. But those projects were just tune-ups for this main event.

“We are an amazing group of people who pull together and get things done,” said Peterson. “DMPS requested 12,000 masks by August 15th. This is a short amount of time to sew this many masks but we are determined. We can do this.”

With a little help from their friends, she suggested. Maybe you could be one of them.

The quilters aren’t alone when it comes to pitching in to provide face masks for students. Busy Bee Tailor in Beaverdale has donated an additional 2,000 masks with more in the works.

“About 75 guild members and 75 community members have helped us make masks in the past,” Peterson said, “but I expect to see many more helping with the request from DMPS.  ”More sewers are needed.”

Anyone can help by picking up kits that contain enough previously cut fabric, instructions, elastic and ties for 25 masks. Kits will be available at Lions Park in Urbandale, between 9:00-11:00 AM on Mondays and Thursdays.

The sewing will take place in individuals’ homes. Normally quilters get together to sew but not under these circumstances. It’s a bit like a bridge club switching to solitaire, except the esprit de corps still pervades the group, even if it’s temporarily virtual. You can feel it in the exclamatory punctuation that peppers Peterson’s emails.

It’s catching AND healthy! Get infected by picking up a kit next week or contact the DMAQG through their web site.

DMPS students and staff will reap what you sew.

Photos of the Des Moines Area Quilters Guild’s Face Mask Project
Students Will Reap What Quilters Sew

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