When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and it seemed like things were “falling apart,” Shova Sharma did not want to sit on the sidelines. The Hopkinton resident, joined by just a handful of others at first, helped launch a do-it-yourself project to make masks for people at places like hospitals and assisted living facilities.
Just weeks after the project began, Sharma has 80 volunteers making masks, and thousands have been donated to various organizations around the state. She has organized the project through Sewa International, a Hindu faith-based, humanitarian, nonprofit organization that focuses on disaster relief and providing humanitarian aid.
“We posted in our Facebook group to spread the word and see if anybody wanted to help us with cutting or sewing or if they wanted to donate fabric, elastic, thread, whatever they had at home,” Sharma said.
She had no idea the demand for masks would be so great, but the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) has proven to be one of the most challenging aspects for frontline workers in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
“I have some family members in the health care profession, and in the beginning we found out it was falling apart,” Sharma said. “The more I posted on Facebook and said, ‘Just reach out,’ the more I was constantly getting messaged about, ‘This hospital needs this, this hospital needs that.’ I said, ‘OK, we have to expand,’ ”
Sharma estimates the number of masks donated through the Sewa project to be around 10,000. The volunteers also have been making hospital caps and gowns. The volunteers are mostly working women, Sharma said, including health care professionals, and some retired people who want to lend a hand.
The volunteers are broken up into three teams, including a collection team that gathers up the donated fabric, a distribution team that picks up and drops off the fabric to homes, and the team that does the sewing. The sewing team is led by Kiran Komaragiri, a fashion designer who helps the rest of the group produce the masks and other equipment.
All of the equipment, Sharma stressed, is free of charge to anyone who needs it.
So far, Sewa has distributed 4,000 masks to around 20 hospitals in Massachusetts. Masks also have been delivered to stores like Whole Foods and Spice Hut, as well as the Hopkinton Police Department, Hopkinton Fire Department, Nashua City Hall and various rehab centers, nursing homes, doctor’s offices and long-term care facilities.
With older folks involved in making the masks and at times the recipients of the PPE, precautions have been taken to ensure everyone’s safety. The collection team wears gloves when getting fabric from stores and it is washed immediately before being placed in a sealed bag and dropped at the doorstep of the volunteers.
Sharma said that anyone needing masks or anyone who wants to help out should reach out through Sewa’s website or Facebook page. She said the project has kept her very busy.
“Right now I am totally devoted, 100 percent of my time here, it’s a full-time job right now,” she said. “This is a crisis time and a service we need now.”
The volunteer work has become a family affair, with children pitching in to cut fabric and perform other tasks. Keeping busy has given many of the volunteers a sense of purpose during the pandemic and kept their minds off the anxiety that comes with living in a difficult time, Sharma said.
“The good thing about this project is the entire family is involved in this time when everyone is frustrated,” she said. “On my team, no one can get frustrated or panicked, they don’t have the time.”