Mary Pat Riley has a passion for learning, helping and nature. Some of her local interests are Maple Hill Cemetery, Botanical Gardens, North Alabama Land Trust, Historic Huntsville Foundation and Burritt Museum. She is a retired Blossomwood teacher, a graduate of Lee High School and the University of Alabama.
Written by Nina E. Woody
photos by Steve Babin
In March of this year, Warren Tidwell of Hometown Organizing Project, realized that COVID-19 was going to impact all areas of Alabama, so he reached out to regional disaster leaders and asked them to activate groups to help essential workers obtain protective cloth masks. He contacted Tiffany Watkins from Ardmore, who recruited Mary Pat Riley to oversee the counties of Madison, Limestone, and Morgan as North Alabama Mask Makers (NAMM,) one of eight “sister” groups of mask makers throughout the state.
Although neither Watkins nor Riley sew, they organized a Facebook page asking for help to produce as many high-quality cloth masks as possible. Riley explained, “Immediately, we got responses from other like-minded people who donated sewing supplies, time, and talent to begin sewing masks.”
Initially, the goal of North Alabama Mask Makers was to provide the nine major hospitals in North Alabama with masks. Within days, they had a base of about 30 people who jumped in to sew from their homes. Other people volunteered to help, including picking up or delivering items wherever they were needed.
“The beauty of this generous group is that we have not met most of these people, and we never know from day to day who will be available to do the tasks required to get masks made and delivered. We estimate that we have approximately 100+ active volunteers at any given time,” Riley said.
“While the group’s original goal was to cover as many essential medical workers as possible in the nine major hospitals of North Alabama, hospitals began to receive professional equipment,” Riley clarified. “But we were soon receiving requests for masks in doctor’s and dentist’s offices, medical clinics, food banks, nursing homes, veterans’ homes, individuals with immune deficiencies, children’s services, workmen and maids entering private homes, United Way agencies, hospice workers, first responders, funeral home workers, clergy, homeless populations and many other people who need masks to protect them in their daily lives.”
Another opportunity to help turned into the chance to provide food for those in need. Riley related, “Wayne Farms in Decatur reached out for help with masks. They had implemented extra sanitation stations and were providing the paper mask for their employees, but the paper masks weren’t holding up well in the wet environment. The solution was a cloth mask over the paper mask to help them last longer and further protect their employees.”
For the processing plant, 1,000 masks were needed. Riley reached out for help in fulfilling this large request. The Birmingham Face Masks group stepped up to help.
For those who want to help, NAMM is seeking dedicated seamstresses. Financial donations can be made to www.hometownorganizing.org to purchase needed supplies
“They were grateful and offered to donate chicken. Since we provided some masks for United Church and Huntsville Helping Hands, who are running an emergency food bank, we gladly accepted on behalf of this group. Wayne Farms donated 400 pounds of fresh chicken tenderloins which was distributed through the emergency food bank,” Riley said.
NAMM vets every request for masks, then requests are filled in the order they come in, to be fair to all. Requests are confidential and all NAMM masks are free.
Riley said of the process, “In order to keep everyone as safe as possible, we set up different ‘drop sites’ throughout our North Alabama area.” Each site has a large plastic tub on a friendly porch that is used like a mailbox to deliver needed supplies, turn in finished masks, and as a pickup point for the filled requests. Items are dropped into the tubs and recipients are notified when they can pick them up. “It is all done with minimal contact and feels like the Pony Express!”