ESSEX — Georgeanne Richards, owner of Sea Meadow Gifts and Garden on Main Street, originally wanted to make 500 face masks for workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. But word spreads fast around Essex.

Richards, with friends Diane Polley and Michelle Grant, organized a network of around 60 locals that has created more than 7,000 within the past two months.

"We've lost track" of how many people are helping out, she said, "because we don't see each other and everything is done separately. The women are sewing in their own homes, people are gathering materials we need, whether it's the elastics or fabric or bags or whatever. Everybody's doing that separately and leaving them here (at Sea Meadow) and we process what comes in."

Two bins sit outside Sea Meadow — one for masks kits and another for completed masks. Masks kits are made by Richards, Grant and Polley and placed outside for pick-up. Volunteers take the kits home, sew the fabric and elastics together and return the completed masks to Sea Meadow.

"The youngest that I know of is a young man that is 9 years old," Richards said of the volunteers. "He works with his mom sewing and he brings the masks back and forth when they're finished. The oldest that we really know of, she's 92, so it really has the whole gamut. So many people helping in so many ways."

Those less skillful with sewing machines have been delivering masks to those in the health and elder care industry across Cape Ann and the North Shore. So far, Lahey Health, Beverly Hospital, Care Dimensions in Danvers, and various doctors offices, senior centers and Meals on Wheels organizations in Essex, Gloucester, Beverly, Hamilton and Ipswich have all received masks.

Richards said she wanted to help the frontline workers after she closed down Sea Meadow in March in accordance with Gov. Charlie Baker's state of emergency order. 

"I was together with Michelle and Dianne and we were talking about the need for masks," she recalls. "They were already saying there was a shortage, and that some of the frontlines were using the same masks over and over again. We decided to get together and use our resources and talents. ... There was no real plan. There was just, 'You do this and I'll do that.'"

Grant, whose family owns Grant Family Farm on Southern Avenue, is a skilled quilter. She said she's cut over 5,000 cloth pieces for the mask kits.

"It's amazing how the town has came together and is helping everybody," she said. "Everyone has their little jobs and are willing to do it."

As a sales consultant at Church Hill Company, Polley utilized her connections within town to fundraise for materials and facilitate the project's volunteer network.

"Every one mask is sewn with love," she explained. "Everyone has a prayer in it. We're always thinking about the patients and the people taking care of them. Essex is an amazing little town."

Richards is similarly impressed with the positive community response to her project.

"It's been sad that we have to do it," she lamented, "but that fact that theres so many people coming together and and wanting to give from their hearts, that's been very rewarding."

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

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