A junior in the Medical Pathways program at the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center (CACTC) and Cranston High School West is putting her medical knowledge together with her sewing skills to help make masks for those in the medical field who are struggling with a shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE. And she is asking others to do the same.
Brenna Whittaker is hosting a mask drive over the next couple of weeks with two drop-off dates in April. The drop-off location for Whittaker’s “Protect Our Heroes Project” will be at Jerilyn’s Sewing School (254 East St., Cranston), where Whittaker took sewing lessons for many years.
The two drop-off dates will be Saturday, April 11, and Saturday, April 25, between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Whittaker said she was inspired to start this project for two reasons.
“One was watching the news and seeing the struggles that these health care professionals were facing,” she said. “It was really heartbreaking to see these people sacrificing their own safety without the proper equipment to help others. As a student in the Medical Pathways program at CACTC, I know the importance of PPE. That’s why I called this ‘Protect Our Heroes Project,’ because they truly are heroes and they are going to be the reason we get through this.”
Someone close to Whittaker is in the medical field and that person provided inspiration to her as well.
“I have a close relationship with someone in nursing. While her facility currently has enough masks, seeing her go into work knowing the severity of this virus and knowing her own personal risk, it’s truly inspirational to me. I think every single person out there helping is inspirational,” she said. “The idea to make masks came to me when I was watching the news with my family and I realized I had a bunch of leftover fabric in my basement from when I used to take classes at Jerilyn’s Sewing School. Growing up and taking the classes, I never realized I could use my skills to make a difference in the world, especially in a time like this. That’s a reason why I wanted to have the drop off at the sewing school because that’s where it all began for me.”
Whittaker realized that many other people might have the opportunity to help out, too.
“When it came to me that so many other people would have extra fabric and the skills, too, I thought, why not put a drive together? So that night my mom and I sat down at the computer to make the flyer, and from there it spread all over social media,” she said. “I am so grateful for all of my friends and even people I don’t know who have shared it. Generosity is just as contagious as the virus.”
As word has gotten out, Whittaker has received positive feedback from others.
“I have gotten great feedback. I have received feedback that I don’t feel I even deserve,” she said. “People have called me an inspiration or even a hero, and my response to them is I’m just trying to do the right thing for the real heroes. This is my attempt at a small contribution.”
As she began sewing her own masks for the drive, many people have stepped in to help even if they don’t have sewing skills themselves.
“I have completed quite a few masks myself and even have people who don’t know how to sew helping out. I have someone who picks up my fabric, cuts out the pattern and drops it back off ready for me to sew,” she said. “I’m so lucky to have someone wanting to help even though they are unable to sew. In a time like this we need more people like that, willing to do what they are able to do.”
As she looks ahead to the two drop-off dates, Whittaker is hopeful that many masks will be donated, and if so, she hopes to be able to extend the drive even longer, with the potential for additional drop-off dates.
“I hope that there will be a big turnout on the two dates set for drop-offs,” she said. “If they are successful, I hope to continue to do drop-offs until the pandemic is over or until all health care professionals are provided with the protection they need. I wish I had included in the flyer a fabric donation for people who have extra fabric but maybe are unable to sew. I could have people who drop off the masks take more fabric if they were willing.”
In such difficult times, Whittaker is inspired by the support she has received already.
“I am so beyond grateful for such a quick and positive response. I never expected it to get this big, but for the sake of everyone who needs the masks I am so happy it did,” she said. “Every contribution is a big contribution, even if it is just a mask or two. I thank everyone who is contributing from the bottom of my heart, because they’re really helping people in need.”