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Campus comes together to provide more than 200 face masks

Barry McNamara
Nyasaina Kwamboka '23 models one of the masks made as part of the theatre department's project.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Members of the Monmouth College community are doing their part to help flatten the curve during the COVID-19 pandemic by making protective face masks for area medical workers, first responders and residents.

Led by Costume Shop Manager Becky Bean and Associate Vice President for Student Financial Planning Jayne Schreck, more than 200 masks have been produced so far.

“I am fortified by the coming together of people from across campus to join us in this service project,” said theatre professor Vanessa Campagna, who helped coordinate the effort led by Bean.

For Schreck, who is working with her husband, College carpenter Joe Schreck, her inspiration to help came partly from family ties.

“I am motivated by the fact that 14 women in my family work in the medical field,” said Schreck. “They are my heroes! And I’m realizing that during a pandemic, my only contribution is to pray and sew, while they work the front lines.”

Through mid-April, Schreck has made more than 150 masks and have material cut for at least that many more.

“I had hoped to keep better track,” she said, “but the requests were coming in faster than I could make them.”

Schreck’s masks have been donated to several Illinois medical facilities, including the Radiology Department at OSF Holy Family Medical Center in Monmouth, nurses at OSF St. Mary Medical Center in Galesburg, occupational therapist teams at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, dialysis nurses in Rockford, and mental health nurses at Genesis Medical Center in Silvis.

“Some were taken to Western Illinois Home Health Care and another large batch to local firemen and EMTs through (Fighting Scots assistant football coach) Derrick Johnston,” said Schreck. “I’ve also provided for immune-compromised individuals and my elderly neighbors and family members.”

Schreck said she ordered elastic very early in the process, anticipating the need for “a lot of it.”

“It took three weeks to get any due to a national shortage and back orders of elastic,” she said. “In the meantime, after using all of my stock of elastic and using up all the elastic from the theatre’s costume shop, we adapted and used hair ties for the elastic loops.”

One of Schreck’s neighbors, Betsy Johnston, who is the wife of business professor Dick Johnston, is also making masks. She “has adapted to sewing old-school tie straps on hers,” said Schreck. “We even have another neighbor, Kathy (Savino) Rickey ’74, ironing the material straps for Betsy to help it go faster.”
To date, Johnston has made around 160 masks.

Schreck originally followed the basic surgical mask pattern provided by the hospitals, but has since adapted the pattern a bit to accommodate filters if individuals want to use an additional layer of protection.

“I cannot take all the credit,” she said. “Joe has helped me tremendously. I was swamped trying to get the masks out and while he was secluded and looking for a project, he came to my sewing room and asked what he could do to help.”

In addition to assisting Schreck with her supply of elastic, theatre staff, led by Bean, have made more than a dozen masks for faculty and staff, as well as masks for each of the more two dozen students still living on campus.

“Becky sewed and donated elastic from her stock at home, and (Student Life Administrative Assistant) Heather Fisher and (political science professor) Jessica Vivian both donated materials, time and skills, as well,” said Campagna. “My work in coordinating this effort was the easy part. I’m thankful to Dean (Mark) Willhardt for giving my idea the green light, and I’m very glad that our department could play a role – theatre pun fully intended – in serving our community on campus and beyond.”