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People across Jackson have jumped into action since the coronavirus outbreak started. Some have made face shields, others have delivered food to health care workers.

A contingent has sewed cloth face masks. The masks don’t help in the operating room, but they come in handy when nurses and doctors are talking away from patients or when they go to the grocery store after work.

Making the masks is a way someone can help with little more than fabric and a sewing machine. For Carmen Gloria Rodriguez it was the most practical way to pitch in once she found herself stuck at home.

“I felt the need of doing something for the people, for my community. I love helping others,” Rodriguez said in an email to the News&Guide. “I always had the desire of contributing to the community that welcomed me when I came from Chile.”

Like many others, Rodriguez is an immigrant. She grew up in a small town in Patagonia, then moved to Santiago, and she has lived in Jackson for about 10 years.

Now she works as a seamstress at Blue Spruce Cleaners, but that work has essentially dried up because people are “not worried about fixing their clothes.” Instead of firing up Netflix, Rodriguez fired up her sewing machine. She washes fabric, then cuts it in bulk before assembling the masks.

“They were not the most fashionable ones, but they help, and it protects people,” she wrote. “I made them simple and quick; that way I could make larger amounts in less time as possible.”

When she had the idea to make masks she called the hospital, where someone put her in touch with Keegan Pfiel, an emergency department nurse coordinating community mask-making efforts. Once she had someone to pick them up, she started in earnest.

As of Tuesday she had made about 1,700 masks for the hospital, and another 700 for others. That kind of generosity caught the attention of the hospital community.

St. John’s Health Foundation President John Goettler has been fielding philanthropic offers from around the county. He has done what he can to recognize donors, but he felt the seamstress stuck in her home churning out masks needed something that said “Thank you.” One night when Pfiel went to Rodriguez’s house he dropped off a Smith’s gift card, a prosaic present Rodriguez said “was a big help.”

“We thought that was a good use of the COVID response fund, to help her get some food on the table,” Goettler said.

Goettler said Rodriguez was one example of a community effort of support unparalleled in his memory as a nonprofit leader. In any crisis people step up, but he said the response has included everything from money to food to masks, and on a bigger scale.

“I’m thinking back to 9/11 and the downturn in ’08, sure there were heroic acts of human kindness and generosity,” he said. “But what I’m experiencing right now, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

For Rodriguez making masks is what she can do. She doesn’t have to leave her house, and it gives her an outlet to aid the community that she said has taken her in and reminds her of where she grew up.

“It gives me a purpose in life, to feel useful and to continue helping my community,” she wrote.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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