Buffalo Grove students producing hundreds of masks

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a groundswell of grassroots community efforts and innovation likely unmatched since World War II. Everyone who can find a way to pitch in is doing so, and that includes a class of Career and Technical Education Fashion students from Buffalo Grove High School.

Family & Consumer Science teacher Ronna Pflanz, looking for a way to help and involve her students, hit on the idea of sewing and assembling face masks.

Twenty students are working from their homes, with materials delivered to them by Pflanz, who later picks up and distributes the completed masks. Students who have sewing machines at home are making masks, while others are cutting fabric and doing prep work. JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts of Arlington Heights donated more than 70 yards of fabric for the project, enough for 1,000 masks. Many of Pflanz's staff colleagues have joined the cause, chipping in with their own generous donations.

"My students are excited to be helping and putting their learned skills to good use," Pflanz said. "They could not be prouder of themselves. They are so excited. This is the perfect opportunity to showcase what they've learned and to be able to use that knowledge and skill at time when the country needs it. How often does that opportunity come by? It's giving them so much empowerment and pride."

Initially, students made general-use masks of tightly woven cotton. While these masks are not specified or designed for the highest level of protection as represented by N95 masks, they do fill a vital need, especially with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation that all Americans wear face masks when they must go out in public. In this instance, hospital personnel who are not in direct contact with COVID-19 patients are using the masks, again helping maximize the supply of N95s.

Pflanz and students have since expanded their work. Her conversations with Northwest Community Hospital's healthcare administrators, and surgery nurses, led to a request that students produce surgical masks. After carefully checking all specs, it was agreed that students were capable of producing these masks, with special materials provided by the hospital.

As with so many other projects springing up to fight the pandemic, this one represents a true community effort. In addition to fabric donations, Plfanz is working with Luke Eber, supply chain manager for Northwestern Medicine, and she also has a connection with an expansive Facebook group making sure the masks are distributed where needed, including Northwestern Medicine, Northwest Community Hospital and Clearbrook Center.

"I was wanting to see what I could do to help," Pflanz said. "It's turned into a bigger thing. It's been awesome, a lot of work but very rewarding."

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