A Brownsburg middle school art teacher eased a phlebotomist’s anxiety about drawing hospital patients’ blood – literally – in a spring break project that also helped hundreds more.
The COVID-19 pandemic quickly spread around the world, causing business and venues to close suddenly. That meant Megan Kendall, who teaches visual arts at Brownsburg West Middle School, had to prepare to teach remotely. She also learned about how unprepared the country was for the escalation of the pandemic: a friend who is a phlebotomist worked at a hospital with such a shortage of protective supplies that she could not get a mask, even though she regularly draws hospital patients’ blood.
“That stressed her out because you get in people’s faces. You can’t draw people’s blood from 6 feet away,” Kendall said. “The hospital said they could start wearing cloth masks if they could find them.”
So Kendall sewed her friend a mask – which kicked off a spring break project to provide masks for those in need of one. She was one of multiple Hendricks County business owners and volunteers who learned from family and friends about the protective supply shortage and then worked to address it.
Brayden and Chase Fleece, who own Pittsboro-based Fleece Performance Engineering, learned about the protective equipment shortage from their sister, a clinical nurse specialist at Hendricks Regional Health. Fleece Performance employees then contacted state officials and also learned that face shields were needed at facilities across Indiana.
Engineers at the automotive components manufacturer quickly designed a new lightweight face shield that could be easily shipped and stored. The business created an initial batch of 30 shields, which were tried out by Hendricks Regional Health staff. The masks were useful and the hospital system immediately ordered 600 more.
Fleece Performance, which is served by Hendricks Power Cooperative, then published a Facebook post about the new protective full face shields. The orders began pouring in.
“We were very surprised by the immediate response on social media regarding the need for our face shields,” Jeff Merriman, chief operating officer of Fleece Performance, said of the Facebook post that received nearly 1,500 likes and 1,800 shares. “In fact, those social media posts had the most engagement of any posts we have ever had.”
Fleece Performance received orders from first responders, caregivers, grocery store clerks, and bulk orders from businesses that could not otherwise receive them from their usual suppliers, Merriman said. Fleece Performance was able to purchase materials to meet the demand.
“We were responding to a need to help frontline workers stay safe in a way that we knew we could quickly have an impact,” Merriman said. “It was also beneficial to help keep our workforce employed and busy during a difficult time for our business.”
Avon resident and Hendricks Power member Erika Pike read about Evansville-based Deaconess Health System’s need for masks, and then learned from several friends working in Central Indiana hospitals that they had their own challenges with protective equipment. So Pike contacted a few friends to set up a group that could volunteer to make some needed masks. She created a Facebook group, and within three hours nearly 1,000 people had responded.
“My volunteering and organizational experience helped me set the framework really quickly for what this needed to look like,” said Pike, who named the new group Sew and Serve. “Not even knowing that it would get to where it is now, but we knew that there was a need, and that there were people who wanted to help fill that need.”
Sew and Serve volunteers started making masks for Eskenazi Health, and quickly received other requests: bouffant surgery caps, then custom masks to fit N95 respirators to prolong their use. Sew and Serve made masks for a long list of organizations that includes Ascension St. Vincent, Community Health Network, and the Indianapolis Police Department.
Some people have donated fabric and supplies to Sew and Serve, while others have donated masks they sewed themselves. Kendall, the Brownsburg art teacher, donated a batch of masks that she created over spring break. She wrote about her initial efforts on Facebook, then received responses about additional needs. She ultimately sewed more than 500 masks.
“The need is so astronomical,” said Kendall, who donated her completed masks to several organizations. “Now it’s beyond the health care providers. Everybody needs them.”
Additional volunteers also worked to fill the need. Sew and Serve received numerous offers for donating time, money, and materials. Circle City Digital, an Indianapolis web design company, made a website for the group that includes instructions to make several types of masks and caps, as well as a form to contact the organization. Through April 30, more than 5,900 volunteers had made 82,243 masks that were donated to 521 facilities.
“That’s what’s been really incredible about how we’ve been able to get people involved,” Pike said. “We have an incredible team that utilized everybody’s talents. We found ways for everybody to help.”
The requests for equipment have leveled off, though Sew and Serve is still contacted daily. Sew and Serve expanded to serve Putnam and Morgan counties, and is working with volunteers to set up additional groups in other parts of Indiana for organizations in need.
“A lot of people have stepped up and asked how they can help, and people have found a place for themselves,” said Pike, who added that some volunteers have discussed meeting in person once social distancing measures are lifted. “They’ve been amazing.”
For more information about volunteering or donating to Sew and Serve, visit www.SewandServe.com/donate/. For more information on Fleece Performance Engineering protective full face shields, visit www.FleecePerformance.com.
Photo: Dropbox – HRH Nurses_with_Fleece shield.jpg (Submitted Photo)
Staff members at Hendricks Regional Health wear protective full face shields created by Fleece Performance Engineering. The business designed and created brand new face shields after owners Brayden and Chase Fleece learned from their sister about the challenges hospitals were experiencing to get needed protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo: Dropbox – Megan Kendall Sewing.jpg (Submitted Photo)
Megan Kendall, who teaches visual arts at Brownsburg West Middle School, sewing a mask. She created more than 500 masks for first responders and additional people who needed them during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo: Dropbox – Erika Pike Sewing.jpg (Submitted Photo)
Erika Pike, who founded Sew and Serve, an organization of volunteers formed to respond to protective equipment needs created by the coronavirus pandemic. Through mid-April, more than 5,800 group volunteers had made 36,239 masks that were donated to 379 facilities.
Photo: Dropbox – IMPD Thank You to Sew and Serve.jpg (Submitted Photo)
A thank you from Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s social media for the protective masks donated by Sew and Serve. IMPD was one of several organizations that received donated masks from the organization.