The Shelmore Stitchers of Brunswick Forest contributed hundreds of handmade masks to local organizations in need.
In the uncertain times of social distancing and isolation, a small group of Brunswick Forest neighbors joined together with a big mission: to help protect vulnerable members of the Leland-area community. Known as the Shelmore Stitchers, this virtual volunteer group of more than a dozen women dedicates their time to sewing and donating homemade cotton face masks for local organizations in need.
Group organizer Cindy Bryant spent her days before the coronavirus pandemic volunteering in the community as a member of the North Brunswick Kiwanis Club. When the spread of the virus put an end to many of her regular activities, Bryant felt she needed to find other ways to help. She reached out to fellow neighbor and friend Nancy D’Abrosca, and the two women quickly created a simple plan to make a big impact.
“We discussed how there might be a need for masks with some of the community’s nonprofits,” Bryant says. “Nancy is a master seamstress, so she came up with different patterns, while I made some contacts, and we found that indeed there was a need.”
Realizing they’d need more help, D’Abrosca reached out to friends in the Shelmore neighborhood, and word of the initiative soon spread to other Brunswick Forest residents eager to volunteer their time and sewing abilities.
“We live in a beautiful area with many talented people, so just by sending out one email, we were off and running with the idea,” D’Abrosca says.
The Shelmore Stitchers’ first request came at the beginning of April from Brunswick Senior Resources, Inc. The women made 91 masks to cover every driver and recipient of the Meals on Wheels program in Leland. Their next project included 140 masks for residents and staff of the Brunswick Cove Living Center. Soon after, the Stitchers sewed and delivered 115 more masks to Lower Cape Fear LifeCare of Brunswick County, bringing their total mask count to more than 300 by the end of the month. With so much work to be done, the group established a weekly virtual meeting in order to evaluate their progress and coordinate their efforts.
“We get on a Zoom conference call every Monday and catch up on what we’re doing, where we are, what new needs are out there and what our numbers look like,” Bryant says.
With more than 15 members and growing, the Shelmore Stitchers include both neighbors who can sew and others who can’t but instead help the group by cutting, pressing or seeking out donations of fabric and other supplies (Heather and Jeff Krasnov of Style Source and Jefferson Landing were two that helped with donations).
Bryant says she and her fellow stitchers use whatever they can get their hands on for fabrics, elastics, ties and for seam binding. The women create a variety of mask colors and styles, including several with pockets for filters and some without, as well as masks with elastics and others with ties to go around the back of head. The masks are all washable and reusable, and each mask is made to fit the individual needs of the specific organizations.
“We make all kinds and trust they will help slow the spread of COVID-19,” D’Abrosca says. “The feeling of doing something that could save lives is overwhelming to think about.”
The Stitchers agree they are not making their masks to sell but rather solely for donation to groups that need the protection to keep people safe. Since other members of the Brunswick Forest community are making and selling personal-use masks as an added source of income, Bryant says she directs the individual requests she receives to those neighbors to support their efforts.
“We can’t possibly respond to making masks for everyone who wants one in the community,” Bryant says. “Since we all volunteer in our normal lives, we’re all connected to the places and organizations where there are the most needs.”
Bryant says the feedback and support the Shelmore Stitchers have received from the Brunswick County community has been wonderful. A remarkable outcome of the virtual collaborative is the new relationships and friendships she has made with other women in her neighborhood. Bryant looks forward to the day when the Stitchers can join together in person to celebrate the work they’ve done and the people they’ve had the fortune of serving.
“It’s very interesting to see a cohesive group come together like this when you have no physical contact, and it’s amazing to think we’re bonded through this common effort in helping the community,” Bryant says. “We all feel very good about what we’re doing, because we all want to be doing something. If we can help keep folks safe and the people they come in contact with safe, then that’s all that matters.”