Alumni collaborate to make masks for essential workers

A network of alumni is providing much-needed masks to healthcare workers

Binghamton University alumni are creating masks for frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Binghamton University alumni are creating masks for frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Binghamton University alumni are creating masks for frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an online community consisting of many alumni has united to provide face masks for essential workers.

“We, the makers, are dedicating our time and putting our skills to use so that those on the front line have some protection during this terrible outbreak,” said Brandy Banchs ’14.

Face Masks for Broome County, a Facebook-based group, formed in response to the face mask shortage among medical professionals. While the majority of the members sew, some people join to donate funds and materials.

“If someone runs out of elastic, another person comes along and says, ‘How much do you need?’ and provides it,” Banchs said. “We have some people who cut elastic or fabric for the makers, as well. That is very helpful, as it cuts down the time [for the sewers] by a lot. Then we have the people who transport. They pick up the masks when they are done and drop them off at the proper location.”

The positions are flexible and the members often take on more than one role.

Ann Bragalia ’91, a financial analyst, picks up and delivers masks in her free time. She is also venturing into making face masks, even though she’s not an experienced sewer.

“Once you join [the] community, you are no longer alone or isolated. You are busy,” she said. “You can help with anything that you can do — cutting fabric, assembling kits, sewing masks, picking up and delivering — especially because some sewers are in the vulnerable age group.”

The group also serves as a platform for employees to request masks for their organization — like UHS and ACHIEVE.

“Nobody ever asks, ‘Why do you need the mask? Who are you going to give them to?’ If someone needs them, we will give them to them,” Bragalia said.

Forming the group was an initiative to connect those who needed masks with those who wanted to make them.

Desiree Bray, the group’s founder, said that other than providing masks for the community, group membership also offers therapeutic benefits.

“There is a need to be helpful, especially in times of crisis,” Bray said. “This group covers a lot of that for many people — whether it is receiving masks, or donating time, materials or money. I think it has also been a great source of therapy for many, something to stay busy with, to spend less time thinking about the bad stuff.”

For instance, Banchs said that after making masks, she feels accomplished because she knows she is helping.

“These are dark times and I know so many people are struggling with their mental health,” she said. “It helps to see so many people coming together to provide for those who need something, like our healthcare workers.”

The Facebook group has now donated thousands of masks, but that would not have been possible without its active members.

“Every day, I get people telling me I’m doing a great thing, but I just made the group and put a little work in,” Bray said. “If it weren’t for everyone stepping up to supply materials and time, it would still be just a group with a few donations.”

For more information, visit Face Masks for Broome County fundraiser.

Posted in: Campus News