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Maui seamstress threads masks for first responders, medical staff

More than 400 completed; some for MPD

Taryn Gillespie explains one of the face masks she handmade for Maui Police Department officer Korey Harris, along with other first responders, at her Kula home on Saturday evening. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

KULA — In a tight-knit Maui community, sewing is coming in handy right now.

Kula resident Taryn Gillespie, owner of clothing line Bitty Bambu, started last weekend making 100 percent cotton masks to donate to local medical professionals and other first responders amid the shortage of personal protective equipment in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

So far, she’s sewn more than 400. On Saturday night, she gave 40 to the Maui Police Department.

“I’ve been working hard to do them but I still feel like it’s not enough,” Gillespie said. “It’s a hard feeling when you’re trying to help but there’s so many people who need them.”

MPD officer Korey Harris, a friend of the Gillespie family who picked up the masks, said it’s been difficult to respond to calls where social distancing is not possible and proper gear hasn’t reached many police, fire and medical responders across the nation.

Paul Gillespie shows how to wear a 100-percent cotton face mask that was made by his wife, Taryn. The Gillespies are donating masks to first responders, nurses and people who have made online requests. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

Maui police and fire officials at recent news conferences have discussed the challenges of working without personal protective equipment during the pandemic. One officer was recently under self-quarantine after being exposed while on a case to a person under investigation for COVID-19.

Other batches of masks are set aside for nurses, medical professionals and postal workers.

The masks are made from 100 percent cotton fabric that Gillespie had initially purchased for her retail line, along with elastic she had also intended to be used on clothes. Gillespie said she’s glad she had the elastic because it’s sold out right now.

The seamstress posted the mask idea online and received an “overwhelming” amount of requests.

Gillespie said the masks are not foolproof against disease transmission, however, research from a 2013 University of Cambridge study on DIY masks indicated that 100 percent cotton material was just over 50 percent effective on certain-sized particles. And for many people, that is much more than having nothing to wear.

While Maui Police Department will have a neutral, subtle pattern for masks, others are made with nurses in mind, said creator Taryn Gillespie. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

Now, with many locations shuttering and retail businesses without sales, the seamstress is working around the clock to help safeguard her community.

“How could you not?” Gillespie said.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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