Fort Lauderdale’s First Presbyterian Church enlists an army of volunteers to make thousands of protective masks
October 1, 2020
The senior pastor’s phone rang at 9:15 p.m. It was Dr. Paul Greenman, a member of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale and the Broward County Medical Association. Greenman made a plea for help during the COVID-19 pandemic — not for himself, but for thousands of other medical professionals and first responders in Broward County, Florida.
Would First Presbyterian-Fort Lauderdale lead a communitywide initiative to make high-quality, HEPA-grade cloth masks fort superheroes on the frontline? Thousands of them?
“Absolutely,” said the Rev. Dr. Patrick Wrisley, the church’s senior pastor. Wrisley said he learned early on in ministry, as a church planter and associate pastor of congregations in Florida and Georgia, that when a church member shares a wild idea about a mission opportunity, it’s best to sit still and listen.
“The crazier the idea is, the more the Holy Spirit is in it,” he said.
In this case, Wrisley had no hesitation, particularly since this mission would be co-led by Greenman and Pam Hickson, the church’s college ministries team leader. He knew they would be unstoppable in meeting this huge challenge.
“We began to reach out to friends and families who reached out to friends and families,” Hickson said. The project began April 2, and in the first eight days there were 10 people cutting and four people sewing. As mask-making continued, more volunteers got on board, all wanting to do something to help during this time of crisis.
In less than six weeks, nearly 14,000 HEPA-grade masks were cut and sewn by more than 250 Broward County residents, with funding and supervision provided by First Presbyterian-Fort Lauderdale in partnership with the country’s medical association.
One volunteer, Sal Fasulo, created two time-saving tools for the team: a loom for quickly cutting set lengths of elastic in large quantities and a puller to make pulling the elastic through each side of the mask much faster. Another volunteer, despite painful arthritis, made between 700 and 800 masks.
Volunteers traced and cut and ironed and sewed and stuffed the filters, added the elastic, performed quality control checks of every mask, counted and packaged the masks and delivered them to emergency rooms, surgical and COVID-19 units countywide, including the Cleveland Clinic, Broward General, Holy Cross and Imperial Point Medical Centers. Masks also were delivered to several police departments, fire stations and skilled nursing and assisted living facilities. The last mask delivery occurred during National Nurses Week and National Hospital Week.
“This is really important. I think this is even more important than all of us realized when we first started all of this,” said Terri McCrary Rogers, who volunteered with her husband and son.
“We just like feeling that we’re helping,” Terri said. The Rogers’ son, Keith, and other high school students working on the project also earned community service hours. “We’re a church and we don’t have our building to go to right now. You know, we can’t gather as a congregation in that way, but this has made me feel like I am still part of our congregation,” Keith said.
Javier Chia said he and members of a drug and alcohol recovery group he facilitates were able to cut 200 masks in three hours. “Tonight, I was scheduled to run the evening group for outpatients, and I was praying while getting ready, as I usually do before running the group, to see what and how the Spirit wants me to lead that day,” Chia wrote in a Facebook post. “Tonight, was something different. Instead of running group as normal, God convicted my spirit and said, ‘Ask the clients if they would like to give back?’ So, I left early, picked up tablecloths and arrived a little early. When all the clients arrived, I sat them down and explained what the church is doing — the mission — and asked if they would like to help. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. We set up all the stations, cleaned and disinfected, handed out gloves. We had six tracers, six cutters and three counters. One of the clinicians came out and said it was beautiful to see everyone working together.”
Tammy Warren, Communications Associate, Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Protective Masks
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
O God, you are the friend to whom all can come. You give us more than we can ever know, and you give it freely and abundantly. Help us to see you in the faces and lives of those with whom we work, that while we minister, we also may be ministered to. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.