Labor of Love Volunteers Sew and Share Thousands of Masks

Khan ngo

As COVID-19 cases began to surface in the spring, Jane Radatz sent a message to Palomar Health, where she had worked as a volunteer for nearly 25 years. “Does the hospital need masks,” she asked. “I want to help.”

The pandemic was surging in many parts of the country. Locally, doctors were concerned about a possible shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE. Palomar Health leaders quickly realized that volunteers could play a key role in keeping the community safe. Just hours after Jane sent her offer to help, a task force was set up to bring in hand-sewn masks for employees, patients and the public.

Jane reached out to a few friends and neighbors, thinking she could get six or eight people to help her sew. But the response took her by surprise. Word spread and soon 100 people were diligently cutting and stitching masks for the healthcare system. In no time, Jane’s group had 10,000 masks ready to hand over.

Meanwhile, Khan Ngo was busily setting up four sewing machines at her home. She was moved after receiving an email asking for help with masks. “I almost cried when I read it,” she shared with GB Magazine. “With everything going on, I was thinking a lot about how I could help the country and the hospital and other people. But I didn’t know how to do it.” Now she did. Over two days in March, she and her family members produced almost 500 masks.

The masks were initially used by employees working in non-clinical areas, which let hospital staff in Escondido and Poway conserve medical-grade masks for doctors and nurses. As more PPE became available on the market, the homemade masks were shared with patients, volunteers and community non-profit partners.

Margaret Mertens, Palomar Health’s Director of Volunteer Development and Spiritual Care, organized the project, which ultimately collected 30,000 masks in all sizes, shapes and colors. “When I think about it, it was amazing,” she said. “Other area hospitals were not ready to accept masks, so Palomar Health became the place to call. The community outreach was just incredible.”

She heard from numerous employees who were touched by the outpouring of support. “The staff just love how beautiful the masks are,” Mertens said. “A lot of time and thought went into them. They were so lovingly made. These masks made a big difference for our staff and let them know the community was behind them.”

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Esteban Villanueva