Around Town

Women keep senior center stocked with colorful face coverings

WESTFIELD – Two women have made it their mission recently to ensure that any senior in the city who needs a face mask would have one.
“Initially I thought the virus would be short-term,” said Barbara Dalton, who has spent years making quilts for special occasions – especially for baby showers. “After I made a few masks for family and neighbors in April, I realized more masks were going to be needed.”

Mask maker Barbara Dalton, on left, dropped off face coverings to distribute to seniors to Mary Lou Niedzielski, Westfield Council on Aging program director, on the morning of July 7. (TINA GORMAN PHOTO)

At press time, Dalton has made 90 masks from her quilting materials for the Westfield Senior Center and more than 25 masks for neighbors and family members.
Dalton, who retired in 2012 as an operating room nurse at Noble Hospital, can appreciate the urgency of addressing the pandemic by wearing face masks.
“I had gotten away from sewing over the years but I knew that some people couldn’t make their own face mask and I wanted to help out,” said Dalton. “I can make a mask in about 15 minutes. The only thing that holds me up is finding enough elastic in the stores.”
Debbie Rivera, who works full-time at the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department and had recently participated in a department initiative to make face masks for essential workers in the region, shared a similar sentiment.
“I also made face masks for family and friends and when we went out grocery shopping we noticed seniors did not have masks and some of them tended to be by themselves,” said Rivera. “I felt there was a need and I have a lot of material so I dropped some face masks off at the Westfield Senior Center.”

Debbie Rivera spends some quiet time each evening making face masks for Westfield’s seniors. (RAY RIVERA PHOTO)

While Rivera isn’t counting, she has made between nearly a hundred face masks that have been delivered to the senior center for distribution.
“Providing masks for the city’s older adults has been a high priority of the Council on Aging staff,” said Tina Gorman, executive director, Westfield Council on Aging. “We have distributed hundreds of cloth masks to the city’s older adults during our daily curbside meal distribution and our monthly Brown Bag food distribution program.”
Gorman noted that many of the city’s seniors live on a fixed income and purchasing cloth masks would have been a hardship.
“Disposable masks are expensive and early on, they were not available, even for those who could afford them,” said Gorman. “The mask makers did an amazing job of keeping us stocked with masks.”
Gorman added that mask makers like Dalton and Rivera also deliver them to the senior center which is “extremely helpful” because of the “skeletal crew” currently working behind the scenes each day.
For Rivera, she is making five or more masks each night since it takes about 30 minutes to complete each one. 
“I make masks that people would enjoy wearing,” said Rivera, noting that she has a wide variety of themed material she uses, ranging from super heroes, cats, and Woody from the Toy Story movies, to different patterns. 
“With different choices, seniors can feel comfortable making it an accessory to their clothing,” she added.
Rivera noted that sewing is a passion of hers and she enjoys the quiet time she is spending right now knowing she is helping others. Rivera and her husband Ray also assist Gorman during Thanksgiving by distributing meals for those who are homebound.
“Just knowing I am putting a smile on someone’s face when they receive a mask is important to me,” said Rivera.
Dalton concurred.
“I had a lot of material and knew that some seniors might only have one mask so when Tina said, ‘keep them coming,’ that message got me into sewing again,” said Dalton. “It makes me feel good to know I can contribute in some way during this pandemic.”
Gorman echoed that sentiment.
“The pandemic has presented challenges that none of us could have imagined just six months ago,” said Gorman, adding, “but it has also brought out the best in individuals and local organizations.”
Gorman noted in the July Voice of Experience newsletter that face masks should be washed often.
“You can include your face covering with your regular laundry,” noted Gorman. “Face coverings can be dried in the dryer or you can lay the face covering flat and allow it to completely dry. If possible, place the mask in direct sunlight to dry.”
For seniors in need of extra cloth masks, call the Westfield Senior Center at (413) 562-6435 to schedule a pickup.

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