She just thought it was the right thing to do.
“I know how to sew and not a lot of people do, and they need masks very badly,” says Christianna Rogers. “It feels like factory work, but it’s important… It’s a lot of work for a couple of weeks until we can get some relief and get some real medical supplies. It’s worth it.”
Rogers, a former costume designer turned real estate agent, converted the kitchen of her modest Sierra Madre home into a mask-making assembly line where she works close to nine hours a day making masks.
She started making masks around the time the shelter-in-place order was enacted. The idea was sown into her mind after seeing a few Facebook posts asking for homemade masks.
“I had played with the idea [and thought] maybe I should make some [masks]. I know how to sew,” says Rogers.
Cramped into her kitchen, with her fabrics and elastics set atop her dining table in one corner, an ironing board pressed against her fridge, and the sewing machine that she’s owned since she was 16 in the corner with multicolored spools of string above, Rogers is able to make around 35 masks a day. The most she’s made in one day was 42 masks.
At the time, she was working on an order of 500 masks for the Riverside Police Department, 200 of which were due a few days later.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shifts it’s tone on the use of masks in public, many hospitals and health care professionals still lack adequate personal protection equipment, with many nurses and doctors forced to use a single mask a day.
All across America, communities are banding together to provide masks to hospitals that are in desperate need of supplies. Rogers is part of a group of volunteers in Sierra Madre and Monrovia making and delivering masks to help the local health care workers and first responders.
“Our first responders should not have to worry about this at this time — this is a gift,” says Laura Tartaglione, a retired police officer. “It’s a gift from the community — a thank you from the community. We want to keep them healthy.”
While Rogers sews the masks together, Tartaglione handles the distribution of the masks, packing them into her GMC Denali and delivering them to local hospitals.
Tartaglione whose daughter is an emergency room nurse and son is a firefighter paramedic felt responsible to help the many other frontline workers like her children.
“This is near and dear to my heart,” says Tartaglione. “I was passionate about it when I started the program. I didn’t realize I was going to get so many people interested and so many people offering help and donations.”
Since many of the fabric stores in the United States have been deemed non-essential and have been closed during the shelter-in-place orders, Tartaglione has received an outpouring of help from others donating fabric needed to make these masks. She was also able to procure 100 percent breathable cotton from a vendor in South Carolina for well under the market price at 40 cents a yard. According to Rogers, a yard of cotton typically goes for $5 at a wholesale price and upwards of $10 at retail price.
“It’s just a community coming together — this is what Americans do,” says Tartaglione. “We’ll do it as long as we can, but we are running out of material.”
As the demand for masks rises with the recent CDC guideline urging people to wear masks, many sellers have increased their prices as supplies run short.
“There are people that are selling masks to nurses for $9 a pop,” says Rogers. “On Etsy,” she said of the website focused on selling handmade or vintage items and craft supplies,” you can buy them for up to $20 apiece. We absolutely would never do that. We’re donating [the masks] to them. They’ve already got enough on their plate working all day.”
Tartaglione echoes the same sentiments, even turning away people offering to buy masks.
“I don’t charge a penny for anything,” says Tartaglione. “It’s a community effort we’re shooting down people who are wanting to buy them because that’s not what we’re doing. This is a project for our frontline people, so they can continue to be productive and save lives.”
The masks that the group sews and delivers are comparable to the surgical masks. While the homemade masks are made out of cotton and the surgical masks are made of polypropylene, they are both meant to filter and protect. Originally, many hospitals denied the masks delivered by Tartaglione. However, recently, as supplies dwindled, she has received requests from staff at the hospital for more homemade masks.
While the two have lost track of how many masks they have made and delivered in the last two weeks, they estimate they have made and delivered hundreds of masks.
‘It’s OK to be tired’
With the deadline for the new masks quickly approaching, Rogers stays up late working on these masks, sometimes working for 12 hours straight. Even with her experience of sewing since she was 10 years old, Rogers admits that it’s difficult work for only one person. To help with her upcoming order of 500 masks for Riverside police, Rogers enlisted the help of her boyfriend Greg Rifkin.
“I didn’t realize how much freaking work it is, it’s so much work,” Rifkin says as he irons more fabric on Rogers pink ironing board.
“I wouldn’t be able to get these done by Monday if he wasn’t helping me,” Rogers says as she takes her turn ironing.
“I was having a lovely quarantine until you employed me,” Rifkin jokingly replies. “I’m exhausted after two days. She’s been doing this for three weeks.”
The two continued to joke around before getting back to work.
To help push through the monotony of ironing and sewing hundreds of masks, Rogers listens to music through her red JBL BlueTooth speaker. Recently, the music has shifted to more heavy metal music with Metallica as she gave the honor of music choice to Rifkin.
“The Beatles dominates this place,” Rogers says. “But since he was helping, I let him play Metallica. I usually just put it on and let it run. My favorite is ‘Octopus’s Garden.’”
Even with the help of Rifkin and the music playing in the background, the work still gets tiring. However, Rogers keeps persevering through hoping to make a difference.
“You get tired making hundreds of these, but it’s really important,” says Rogers as she continues to iron dozens of more masks. “It’s a lot of work for a couple of weeks and it’s going to make a difference. It’s OK to be tired right now. Everybody at the hospital is tired right now, the nurses are tired right now. I think it’s OK for some of us to be tired right now too, don’t you think?”