Honoring the rich history of the American Red Cross’ rapid response to the Spanish flu, a new project has launched to help stop the spread of COVID-19 by making face coverings for veteran and military hospitals and military bases across the world. Currently, crafters all over the globe are putting needle to thread to honor this 100-year-old tradition of supporting military families through sewing.
Faced With a Shortage
Early in the 20th century, the United States found itself in dire circumstances, juggling the effects of World War 1 and the Spanish Influenza. As the virus surged through the country, the Red Cross was at the forefront of the response. The Production Corps of the Red Cross, one of the most popular volunteer units in Red Cross history, manufactured and provided millions of surgical dressings and articles of clothing for soldiers, veterans and refugees during its years of operation, also making gauze face coverings to prevent the spread of influenza. Over 8 million women came together to produce more than 260,000 face coverings.
Topstitch for Troops
Flash forward to the 21st century and the eerily similar times we now face. Another strong parallel that can be drawn is the resilience and ingenuity of the former and modern-day volunteers. One great example of a modern-day volunteer is Dr. Rosemary Eskridge. Her Oklahoma City Red Cross Sewing Circle is sewing every day to support veteran patients and medical staff in their local community. She is even using video chat technology to teach others how to create these coverings.
Growing up as the child of a former marine and disabled veteran, Dr. Eskridge is sensitive to the needs of her community. She started volunteering at Veterans Administration hospitals as a kid and has kept on going. Now she wants everyone to understand the impact you can make.
“Our veterans served for us, to protect our rights and our freedoms, but now they need us; it is our time to serve them,” said Dr. Eskridge. “This service to them is especially important right now during the pandemic because they cannot receive visitors at the hospitals or veteran’s homes. Our veterans need to know that even though friends and family cannot visit them, they are not alone and they are not forgotten. By sending these items, they know someone, somewhere is thinking about their needs and made that item especially for them.” To date, Dr. Eskridge and team have made over 1,700 face coverings.
Across the pond, people are also putting their talents to tremendous use. Red Crosser and skilled seamstress Selina Parker wears many volunteer hats on base in Bahrain, including working with her colleagues to make face coverings for the U.S. military community. With the demand extending beyond Bahrain, they are also shipping them out to other installations all over Europe.
Currently, there is also a need for face covering materials. According to Kathleen Pagano, another Red Crosser in Bahrain, you don’t have to be a skilled sewer to get the job done. “Do not let lack of sewing skills prevent you from volunteering with this initiative. Assembling face masks is a multi-step process and sewing is just one of those steps. There is a need for individuals who can iron, cut out patterns, wash the finished mask, and then disinfect and package.”
In Japan, the Red Cross is answering the call for face coverings as well. Volunteers and employees are filling requests made from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Okinawa and quarantined service members. Leaving no stone unturned, they’ve taken to Facebook Live to call for all people to help in this effort. Using this video platform, they explained the need and showed examples of cut fabric. They are requesting completed face coverings or materials.
Calling on You
If you would like to take part in this historic effort, we encourage you to reach out to your local Red Cross chapter to see if there is a need in your community. If so, the chapter will let you know what is needed. The Red Cross asks everyone to follow CDC face covering guidelines when creating. Once finished sewing, the completed products or materials can be dropped off at your local Red Cross for their distribution.
Become a Volunteer
In the face of disasters like COVID-19, the American Red Cross and global Red Cross Red Crescent network join together to ease people’s suffering. Find out how you can volunteer at home and across the globe at redcross.org.
For more information about American Red Cross’s work around the world, visit redcross.org/international.