As coronavirus continues its spread throughout the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended people to wear face coverings in public, even if they aren’t sick with COVID-19. It’s unlikely you’ll find masks for sale at your local supermarket — which is why some Rogers Park residents have turned to making and distributing their own homemade face masks.
Beth Uber has lived in Rogers Park for 12 years and owns Threadline Studios (1505 W. Morse Ave.), a sewing shop located half a mile from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. As theaters closed and Uber, 40, was no longer making costumes for plays, she decided to start donating her leftover fabric to organizations supplying masks and surgical caps to hospitals.
Uber said at first she didn’t know if homemade masks were worth making — but after talking to a doctor friend she decided her cloth masks were better than nothing, but hoped they wouldn’t be used in place of medical-grade masks in dangerous situations.
“What I’m making is the simplest mask, because what I’m afraid of is homemade masks will give people a false sense of security,” Uber said. “That’s my reservation in all of this, is making people think they can go out and be together, like you need to stay at home.”
According to the CDC, cloth face masks do help slow the spread of COVID-19. They recommend the general public opt for homemade face masks in order to reserve medical-grade masks for health care workers.
Putting her uncertainties aside, Uber ended up making 70 maks for Inspiration Corporation, a nonprofit serving people experiencing homelessness in Chicago.
Uber then turned to Etsy, an online platform that allows sellers to connect with buyers for unique homemade products. In eight days, Uber had made and sold 300 masks and raised more than $1,500 for Inspiration Cooperation and another non-profit, Artist Resource Mobilization (ARM).
Courtney Harmer, a four-year Rogers Park resident, also has experience working in the costume design industry. Like Uber, she’s using Etsy to sell her masks after making sure all of her close friends and family were covered.
“I had so much extra energy, and I felt powerless not being in my normal workspace helping, so I really wanted to do something to help the community,” Harmer said.
Harmer, 31, started by sending out masks to community members working in healthcare, and she’s working on an order for the Shedd Aquarium to protect the workers still tending to the animals.
Harmer said her Etsy shop has coupon codes for essential workers and people who have been impacted financially by the pandemic — but she didn’t think she would be the one these workers were relying on for essential protective gear.
“It’s horrifying, I should not be in this equation at all,” Harmer said. “I’m happy to do what I can, but it’s really upsetting to me that people who work in healthcare are legitimately relying on [costume makers] to build masks.”
Elisa D’Amico, a Ph.D. student at Loyola studying political science, is using her free time during quarantine to research the most effective homemade mask to put her mom’s leftover fabric to use.
“I just feel so bad for the healthcare workers,” D’Amico, 24, said. “I just thought it was important to make good quality masks that are effective and researched.”
D’Amico’s dad, who’s in his 60s, was her first client. She made him a mask with a vacuum cleaner bag and some fabric after finding it was the most effective thing she could make at home — allowing him to close up his local business and run errands safely. Then, she listed her masks on eBay in both kid and adult sizes.
“I wanted them to be affordable,” D’Amico said. “Especially for the kids’ ones, I didn’t want to profit off of this.”
D’Amico echoed the same message as Uber and Harmer — she said she’s happy to help where she can, but believes the government should be stepping in.
“I hope it wakes a lot of people up to how screwed up our healthcare system is,” D’Amico said.