When a long-time patron asked TASK Programs Manager Jaime Parker to fix the face mask he wore to help slow the spread of COVID-19, she didn’t expect it to be past its wear and dirty with popped elastic dangling from the sides.
She was equally surprised when another TASK patron came looking for a face mask after a local food market denied him entry because his nose and mouth were not covered. The two separate incidents let Parker know all at once, the soup kitchen needed to do something fast to help patrons better protect themselves and others from possible infection.
A coveted commodity since the arrival of COVID-19 in the US this March, the demand for face masks increased pointedly in New Jersey after April 8 when Governor Phil Murphy made them mandatory in public. TASK closed its dining room on March 16 to help stem the spread of the pandemic, continuing however to serve meals to-go from its front door. In addition to food, TASK also distributes hand sanitizer, soap and – when available – face masks. The masks are the latest addition in TASK’s long-time efforts to help patrons “keep themselves clean” and healthy as possible, Parker said.
While face masks are not the ultimate defense against the disease, every bit helps, according to national experts who say social distancing and the wearing of face coverings should be a regular part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. TASK has received many donations of face masks – machine-sewn and as many as 400 surgical masks on one occasion – but they were gone within a couple of days. To get the best protection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends homemade face masks because, unlike surgical masks, they can be worn fitted to the face and therefore provide better protection. Additionally, Parker added that the surgical masks with their paper-like construction, do not last long – especially for those who are transient and/or live outside. That’s when the idea of using readily available and durable materials to make masks was bounced around among TASK staff.
“The one thing we have lots of is socks,” said TASK Patron Services Specialist Evie Spadafora who came up with the idea of turning a tube sock into a face mask. Spadafora’s office manages in-kind donations such as hygiene products, and of course – socks. Affectionately known as TASK’s Martha Stewart for her uncanny ability to dispense on-the-spot solutions to household dilemmas, Spadafora perused Pinterest and other web sites where there are literally hundreds of posts on how to make face masks with everything from duct tape to t-shirts.
“The no sew masks are pretty easy to make, it took me all of 90 seconds to complete and all you need is a sock, a coffee filter and a pair of scissors,” explained Spadafora. “We know that using a sock and a coffee filter isn’t perfect, but we’re trying to adapt and help our patrons anyway we can.”
While making a sock mask doesn’t take a lot of time, it would be time consuming for the handful of TASK “essential” staff onsite who are busy preparing and serving food to the hundreds of people who have been literally coming to TASK’s front door for meals. The soup kitchen is currently serving more than 8,500 meals a day from its Escher Street hub in North Trenton. That leaves little time for much else, but thanks to volunteers like the team at Visitation Home, Inc. a Hamilton Township-based residential community for individuals with developmental disabilities, TASK has the new sock masks in supply. Colleen Brand who works directly with residents, said they were thrilled to help.
“Our precious people loved doing this,” Brand said, explaining before the pandemic, residents were regularly out and about in the community, exploring their interests. “We did it one day for about 90 minutes and then finished it up on another day. It was a good way for them to volunteer and stay connected to the local community and learn about TASK. They just really enjoyed it.”
TASK has received more than 1,000 donated sock masks thanks to volunteers. Parker said she anticipates the need for face masks will be ongoing. So, while the supply has been replenished, more full-size socks and more masks are needed. Volunteers interested in making face masks for TASK should contact Evie Spadafora in Patron Services at (609)695-5456 ext. 100.