Sandy Byrnes has been sewing masks every day for weeks.

“I start at about 5 or 5:30 in the morning,” said Byrnes. “I start cutting, and then I sit down and sew. I take breaks to stretch my legs and eat.”

Since she started about two weeks ago, she’s made over 270 cotton face masks, which can be worn to help protect people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. They’re not N95 masks, but Byrnes is giving and sending them to people who don’t have access to protective equipment.

“They’re not used as surgical masks,” said Byrnes. But she explained that they can go over a surgical mask for extra protection. And they can be washed and used again.

One of her grandsons is a nursing student in St. Louis, and his cousin who works at the hospital said they were short on masks, so Byrnes sent some there.

She sent more to her grandson in Nashville, whose friends in the food industry needed protection.

She’s sent them to friends in Florida and donated them to people who want to visit their elderly grandparents.

Locally, Ed’s Way employees have benefited from Byrnes’ masks, as have some of the senior citizens in the community and the staff at ATI physical therapy. Her plan is to get them to the people who need them. For free. She accepts donations to pay for material but doesn’t ask for it.

Byrnes is running low on the ¼ and 1/8-inch elastic she needs for the masks, and is looking into the possibility of using stretchy ponytail holders instead.

The idea to make masks at home came to Byrnes when she heard on the news that there were shortages. Experienced in the art of sewing already – she makes quilts and teaches classes at the park district – Byrnes put out a message online to see if anyone wanted a homemade mask.

Immediately, people replied. So she picked up extra fabric and started cutting and sewing.

“It takes about eight minutes to make one mask if I work really hard,” said Byrnes. But that’s only the sewing part. Measuring and cutting must be done beforehand.

“I want to make sure everyone’s taken care of,” said Byrnes.

This isn’t the first time she’s used her skills and artistry to help others. In the winter, she’s made fingerless gloves for the drive-through workers at McDonald’s, designed to keep their hands warm while allowing them to handle cash and do their jobs. She gives the same to homeless people as well. And she never asks for a dime in return.

“I see them and think, ‘They need that!’ I know some people can’t just go out and buy it,” Byrnes said.

And she’s made quilts that she donates to organizations like Ronald McDonald House and Hephzibah. She said her husband Joe Byrnes, village commissioner, is known as the Quilt Man at the Fisher VA home at the Edward Hines VA Hospital because he delivers her quilts there so regularly.

Byrnes said she’ll keep making masks as long as there’s a need, and she’s always looking out for people who need something. “I see a need and I want to help,” she said.

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