Iowa City Senior Center partners with Johnson County nonprofit to sew masks for seniors

The Iowa City Senior Center has partnered with TRAIL of Johnson County to sew and provide contactless delivery of face masks for local senior citizens during COVID-19.



Will Fineman, News Reporter

The Iowa City Senior Center has nearly 900 handsewn masks lined up for local senior citizens after the center put out a call for volunteer sewers.

The senior center partnered with Johnson County nonprofit Tools and Resources for Active Independent Living to provide contactless delivery to local senior citizens who request a mask. This follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation earlier this month that everyone wear masks in public in order to help prevent unknowing COVID-19 spread.

Senior Center program specialist Michelle Buhman said project leaders currently have 52 volunteer sewers who have offered to sew between 10 to 50 masks each.

“Looking at how many people who said that they would sew, we are at 877 masks,” Buhman said. “Our goal originally was to serve all of the members of the senior center and TRAIL, so we’re not quite there yet but luckily a lot of people have their own masks already.”

Buhman said the partnership with TRAIL has allowed volunteers who normally offer rides to seniors for events to continue helping local seniors since most local events have been canceled.

“TRAIL usually provides transportation services for people to go to social events and medical appointments which is all pretty much on hold,” Buhman said. “So, we were really thinking about who we can trust with individual addresses, and those vetted volunteers seemed to make sense.”

Marlea O’Brien, chair of the Volunteer Committee for TRAIL of Johnson County, said the organization promises contactless delivery for every mask delivered.

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“Each mask is bagged separately with instructions and a note inside,” O’Brien said. “Our drivers go around and leave [the masks] at the front door, and they all wear masks and gloves.”

O’Brien said that everyone who receives a mask is notified either through email or over the phone on the day their mask is going to arrive.

“I just put the delivery bags on my doorstep, and [the drivers] come and pick it up and then they go around,” O’Brien said. “I notify people on the day that their mask is going to arrive either by email, or I call and just tell them to watch for it.”

In an email to The Daily Iowan, O’Brien said that, since the project’s April 6 launch, TRAIL volunteers have delivered 221 masks.

Buhman said TRAIL has delivered masks to 89 different locations. When it comes to donations, the Senior Center has received $1,900 to pay for fabric and are hoping for additional funds to keep this project going, Buhman said.

“A number of helpful activities that we have been involved in have been stopped,” said Jim Ruebush, a volunteer for TRAIL of Johnson County. “The people who are volunteers want to help and do what they can, and this was another opportunity to do something, so this has been a really positive thing.”

Buhman said the masks are not medical masks and will not all look the same.

“We picked out different fabric patterns just to have it be a little more fun, so some of the patterns are really beautiful and some are a little quirky,” Buhman said. “Every mask is a little different.”

O’Brien said the Senior Center and TRAIL have received a lot of positive feedback about the entire process and the masks from those they have delivered to.

“A woman called me and said that she just wanted us to know that the mask we delivered to her was the nicest one she had ever had,” O’Brien said.

The volunteer effort and collaboration between the Senior Center and TRAIL of Johnson County has been the backbone of this campaign.

“I hope we can continue this volunteer effort that has gone into this to help each other and the community,” Buhman said. “It just makes me proud of our community.”