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WCWC student, mom duo donate hundreds of masks

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Reese's is a great combination, but the popular candy has nothing on the Erwins when it comes to making folks feel good.

Brandi Erwin is a nursing student at Weatherford College Wise County. Her mother, Sandy, is a professional artist. Together, they combined their skills to help protect folks from COVID-19 by making masks and sending them throughout the state and nation.

"My mother’s servant heart is the reason behind it all," Brandi said. "When she sees a chance to help someone, she doesn’t hesitate, and this was something she knew she could help with."

Sandy originally saw a social media post from Wise Health System asking for volunteers to sew masks for them around the middle of March. She picked up a pattern form, went straight home and made 20 to donate to hospital volunteers.

From there, the project kept growing.

Originally, Sandy had some fabric from old craft projects for the masks. Her mother was an excellent seamstress, and Sandy inherited all of her sewing supplies several years ago. For the filters, she and Brandi bought the recommended 3M air conditioner filters and cut them into the appropriate size.

Sandy experimented with several different patterns and had great feedback on the double-layered, pleated style from the nurses who used them. They are made with a removable filter, removable pipe-cleaner in the nose to make it fit the face and a drawstring that loops over the head.

"This style is more one-size-fits-all, and didn’t cause as much irritation to the back of the ears as some do," Brandi said. "We also are able to make them in child sizes."

After the first donation to the hospital, they realized the enormous need for masks. Brandi, as a WCWC nursing student, has seen first-hand how crucial personal protection equipment can be in healthcare settings and thought about how many people they know personally who could use masks.

And with the demand outweighing the supply, she and her mom decided to join forces to do their part.

"This has become a ministry for us and allowed us to find a bright spot in these difficult days," Sandy said. "Although this virus has caused hardships and difficulties, it has given us a reason to come together and contribute to a cause greater than ourselves."

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Originally, the idea was to make masks for healthcare and medical staff, first responders, and the elderly population. But as the word got out and more people realized the extent of the virus, they decided to make them for anyone who wanted one, while prioritizing those in at-risk settings first.

Brandi cuts fabric filters and irons them, then Sandy sews them.

"We had a bit of an assembly line going and she could get them together quicker," Brandi said.

Sandy is known for her artwork around Wise County, notably some beautifully painted windows throughout.

Brandi originally attended WCWC beginning in 2009 after graduating from Paradise High School. She then earned a degree in kinesiology from Texas Tech in 2016 and returned to WCWC last fall, where she is currently on the Dean's List.

"After graduating and working in a different field for a while, I realized that it just wasn’t right for me. I think it’s important to do something that challenges me and requires me to grow as a person," Brandi said. "I also was raised and truly believe that we should offer compassion and be of service to others when possible. When thinking of those things, there is an opportunity for all of that in being a nurse.  

"While I understand that it will definitely not be easy, it’s a role that can truly make a difference for people and their families in some really trying and vulnerable times. Plus, it’s a career choice that offers a wide variety of different jobs and really has so much to offer."

Through social media, Brandi and Sandy were even able to help in New York, where the Coronavirus pandemic has hit the United States the hardest. Sandy put a post on her Facebook page about the masks and the messages started flooding in. As people shared her post, it spread far and wide through a network of family and friends.

She also joined a Facebook group of other mask-makers across the country where they share tips and offer advice to each other to help serve the need around the country. Now, she and Brandi have their own page called “Mask Nation Paradise” (she lives in Paradise), where she takes orders and shares pictures of her process and other updates.

Dr. Daniel Laroche, a glaucoma specialist in New York City, saw their project through a shared post and reached out asking for masks for his staff as they were facing a high volume of cases.

"She (Sandy) asked how many he needed and where to send them and filled the order. He sent her pictures once they received their masks expressing immense gratitude," Brandi said.

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Becki Byrd, student services director at WCWC, said the giving spirit of the Erwins touches her and makes her proud.

"As we progress through these uncertain times, it is a blessing to see such caring souls," Byrd said. "Brandi knows the challenges that she will face entering the health care field upon graduation from Weatherford College Wise County as a registered nurse, and she is already making an impact in her chosen profession.

"Brandi and her mom did not embark on this project for notoriety or attention–they just wanted to provide a bit of help and a lot of hope in this time of crisis. I am in awe of the impact that these two individuals have made, not only in our community but nationwide in such a short amount of time."

Now that word has gotten out about their project, others have joined in to help in a variety of ways, Brandi said.

"We are in absolute awe of just how many people have stepped up to help," she said. "Whether it be monetary donations, donating supplies or donating time to cut fabric, filters, and ties, or to sew masks themselves, the outpouring of love and assistance to meet the needs has been phenomenal and we are just infinitely grateful.

"There are entirely too many people to name or even count, but our community is so giving and eager to help. We truly could not do it without them. I personally am so thankful that so many people have pitched in because my mother does not know the word ‘no.’"

Dr. Christy Bowen, WC nursing professor, said she was proud of the impact Brandi and her mother are making in the community.

“I was touched by their compassion to help others, as this is the foundation of nursing,” Bowen said. “Nursing is selfless and often done without recognition, so I wanted the generosity and hard work Brandi and her mother have done for not only Wise County but across the US to be known because they represent what WC stands for, 'We Care.'”

Brandi said her mother is the hero of the tale, and she will be right there alongside her helping her make masks as long as the battle continues.

"This epidemic has drastically affected everyone, and as long as there is a need we will continue to help how we can. Even beyond COVID-19, if there are people who need masks, I know that we will continue to make them," she said. "I am truly blessed to have her as a mother, role-model and inspiration."

Sandy added that when she gets tired, "I think about the nurses and essential workers that are facing this virus day-in and day-out, fighting from front lines to do their part, and it reminds me that if they can be there doing all of that, I can keep sewing.”

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by Rick Mauch
 

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