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#TogetherApart: Pens executive assistant sewing free cloth masks

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

While there may not be hockey this spring, the entire Penguins organization is doing what it can to help others in our community. In the coming days, we will be putting the spotlight on a few Penguins employees who are going above and beyond to make a difference during these difficult times.

Over the past few weeks, Penguins executive assistant Susan Carper has been hard at work sewing cloth masks as part of the nonprofit organization Days for Girls' #Masks4Millions campaign. 

Carper has personally made 350 masks that she has distributed free of charge to local health care personnel, individuals who must interact with the public and fellow Penguins employees. Along with her fellow volunteers at the Valencia chapter of Days for Girls, a total of 2,485 free masks - and counting! - have been distributed throughout the area. 

Each mask takes about 15-20 minutes from the time Carper picks up the fabric to when she does the final stitching, which works out to about four masks every hour. But she's found that making them in batches is the best approach.

"I'll cut 60, then I'll put the elastic on a dozen and then ribbon on another dozen," she said before adding with a laugh, "You've got to break them up somehow."

Carper first got involved with Days for Girls after her sister-in-law suggested that they could use her sewing expertise, as volunteers create washable hygiene solutions for girls and women in poverty-stricken areas across the globe. So Carper reached out to the Valencia chapter, and as fate would have it, the woman in charge, Wendy Kovach, is a Penguins season ticket holder. 

Kovach told Carper that they meet once a week at the Holy Sepulcher Church on Route 8 in Butler. Carper went one day to check it out, and was blown away by what she saw - over 50 women of all ages, from home-schooled teenagers to retired nuns, coming together to help shatter stigmas and limitations for women and girls.

Carper told them she would love to get involved. Every now and then, Carper will stop in to drop off what she's done and pick up bins of more work to do.

After the pandemic began, Carper wanted to start making masks. So, she went online, ordered some elastic and then pledged to make 200 masks for #Masks4Millions. Carper had to figure out where to distribute them on her own, so she contacted her primary care physician and endocrinologist, who both gratefully accepted her offer of masks for their staff. 

Her endocrinologist then told Carper to contact Allegheny Health Network's Office of Development to see if they needed masks too, so she did - and they did. The first week, Carper brought 50, and her contact there said they could use another 200. Carper thought to herself, 'How the heck is that going to happen?'

In another twist of fate, she got a text the next day from a number she didn't recognize. It was a fellow volunteer from Days for Girls, saying that Kovach had told her AHN needed masks and asking Carper how many she needed.

"I said, 'Well, how many do you have?' She said, 'I have 100.' I said 'Okay, I'll take them!'" Carper said. "Then I get another phone call from a different woman, and she said, 'I have 50 masks, but I can't meet until next week.' I'm like okay! By the end of last week, I had promised AHN 200 masks. I ended up with 335."

Every Thursday, Carper drives to an empty parking lot on Route 8 to meet other volunteers - all wearing masks and practicing social distancing, of course - to exchange masks and supplies. While they have plenty of fabric, there's currently a nationwide elastic shortage, so Carper logged onto the neighborhood app Nextdoor and wrote a short message outlining what she was doing and asking for any spare elastic or ribbons.

"For three days, people were stuffing my mailbox with elastic and ribbon," she said.

It brings Carper to tears thinking about how people have come together to help each other out. They have gone above and beyond her initial overall goal of 1,000, and will keep going as long as they are needed.

"We're going to keep doing it as long as there are requests," she said.

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