Lazarus House sewing student Pam Aldrich
Lazarus House sewing student Pam Aldrich

Lazarus House Sewing Graduates Pay it Forward
Making Masks for the Coronavirus Frontline workers

Students who have learned to sew in the Lazarus House training program have joined the effort, led by 10-year Lazarus House volunteer sewing teacher Bonnie Mahan, to produce face masks helpful in the protection from COVID-19.

“I was just thinking it would be a good thing to do,” said Mahan. “After I started making my own and posting it on Facebook, I saw that all these other people had been doing it as well.”

Mahan, even though limited essentially to the use of her non-dominant arm by recent shoulder surgery, has already created over 100 kits with the material needed to make the masks. She continues to compile the kits and send them to her students, all of whom received refurbished sewing machines from Lazarus House upon graduation from the program.

“The students have really stepped up,” she said.  “They are excited, and they are so happy they can do that. People are home and want to be able to help, while protecting their families.”

These students are stepping into giving back and paying it forward using the skills they learned at Lazarus House. More than 15 students continue the effort from their homes using the kits or their own supplies – not easy given their own financial struggles. Two students, Pam Aldrich, of Salem, NH, and Rosa Almonte, of Lawrence, have joined in the effort to provide these masks using their own supplies and other suggested designs.

The masks do not meet the N-95 mask standard recommended for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, but Mahan has made them extremely useful, nonetheless.

Sewing teacher Bonnie Mahan making masks
Sewing teacher Bonnie Mahan making masks

“I made mine with an opening so that you could insert an N-95 and preserve the precious N-95 masks much longer that way. Some hospitals were requesting that,” she said.  “The outer fabric masks we make can be washed, and the inner mask can be put back in.”

According to the CDC, fabric masks are an option when other PPE supplies are not available.

“Prior to modern disposable masks, washable fabric masks were standard use for hospitals,” said Dawn Rogers, of the Patient Safety & Infection Prevention Office at Deaconess Hospital in Indiana.  “We will be able to sterilize these masks and use them repeatedly as needed.  While it’s less than ideal, we want to do our best to protect our staff and patients during this pandemic.”

Mahan said she will also be making masks for a friend who is a home health nurse, and another who works at a local hospital.

Others made by her students will go the staff at Lazarus House who continue to provide essential services to those in the Lawrence area that rely on the non-profit for food and shelter.

Smaller sizes are being made for the children in the Lazarus House Shelter.  As more masks are produced, they will be offered to local healthcare providers.

Masks made by Lazarus House sewing student Yolanda Guzman
Masks made by Lazarus House sewing student Yolanda Guzman

Mahan said she is not surprised her students have reacted enthusiastically.  Some began making masks even before receiving the kits.

“The students that took the initiative with their own supplies are thrilled and I’ve received photos,” she said. “One student, Yolanda Guzman, of Lawrence, has been in the Dominican Republic with her family and she has been making them over there.  When she comes home this weekend, she will make more for the community here.”

Instructions on making masks can be found on the Deaconess Hospital website:

They can then be mailed to Lazarus House for distribution at 412 Hampshire Street, Lawrence, MA 01842.