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Facemasks created by the Community Sourced PPE: Operation Sewing Squad.
Facemasks created by the Community Sourced PPE: Operation Sewing Squad.

Dunkirk Woman Sews, Gives Protective Face Masks to University Students

Thanks to a former State University of New York at Fredonia student, students living on campus for the rest of the spring semester have cloth face masks to wear so they can do their part to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

These colorful, all-cotton masks were made by Cheryl Gawronski, who attended Fredonia more than a half-century ago. She is part of Community Sourced PPE: Operation Sewing Squad, a Facebook group whose members wash material, cut fabric, sew masks and distribute them where they’re needed in Western New York.

Working remotely, these volunteers have made and distributed some 33,000 face masks in 36 days to law enforcement agencies, local governments, hospitals, the New York State Department of Health and home nursing agencies, among others.

“We noticed that students were not wearing masks like they should be wearing, and I knew Cheryl was making them for other groups,” explained Jill Zappie, an office assistant in Residence Life. “I reached out to her, and she made 100 for us in a matter of three days!”

A variety of bright colors and patterns were used in the masks, which resemble surgical masks and are washable, Ms. Zappie noted. Residence Life staff distributed the masks to students on Wednesday.

Marie-Anne Conde, a first-year student from New York City majoring in Visual Arts and New Media: Animation and Illustration, was eager to receive a mask, which she says is beautiful. “The fabric is rich, and the color designs and pattern are lovely,” Ms. Conde said. “It’s amazing how these were hand-made. They combined design with medical emergency.”

Conde wears the mask every time she visits Cranston Marché and Starbucks.

“It has been a very humbling experience to be part of this group of sewers who have worked together to do what we can to help in this time of need,” said Ms. Gawronski, a U.S. Postal Service retiree who lives in Dunkirk. “I sew because I truly enjoy it. Sewing has kept my mind busy during this unprecedented time. I am happy that I could do a small part to help the students,” Gawronski added.

“I am so thankful to Cheryl for her kind gesture,” said Kathy Forster, director of Residence Life. “I know that the on-campus students and the staff that the students interact with on a daily basis appreciate the thoughtfulness.”

Those thoughts were echoed by Zappie. “The residence directors were
very excited about them, are very thankful,” she said.