Why This Matters: In the local fight against COVID-19, Charlotte-Mecklenburg cultural organization are working to provide healthcare workers with the protective gear they need.
By Krista Terrell, APR
Vice President, Marketing & Communications
In an unusually quiet Uptown Charlotte, Liz Shinkle, production manager at Charlotte Ballet, and five of her colleagues are at the Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance working diligently using fabric from past performances of “Wuthering Heights,” “Carmen” and other performances.
They are not making tutus or bodices for Charlotte Ballet company dancers; they are making masks for pediatric patients at Levine Children’s Hospital, part of Atrium Health.
Three weeks ago, Shinkle and ballet executive director Doug Singleton began hearing reports from the International Alliance for Theatrical Stage Employees about how costume shops in New York were starting to make masks to protect against COVID-19.
“Doug and I started thinking about how we can help for efforts here in Charlotte,” Shinkle said.
Singleton reached out to Holli Helms, senior manager in the Corporate Engagement & Social Responsibility department at Atrium Health, a long-standing partner of Charlotte Ballet, and offered to help.
“It was a great timing because they were starting to mobilize their volunteer efforts,” said Shinkle.
Atrium provided the specific mask pattern and Shinkle and her team immediately got to work making adult masks only using 100 percent cotton. “Using 100 percent cotton is critical,” she says. “Cotton ensures that the masks can be washed and dried in hot temperature, so they are reusable.”
Then, after 24 to 48 hours, things quickly changed.
“It became clear to us that one size does not fit all and we needed a provision for our most precious patients. Our pediatric patients,” Helms said.
She realized there was a unique opportunity for the partnership because the masks were smaller and more intricate and asked if they would start sewing masks for pediatric patients exclusively.
“We obviously recognized their talent, professionalism and skill set and knew that we would be able to utilize them for a very special project,” said Helms.
Belk department store generously donated 35 packets of sheets (fitted, flat, pillowcases), made of tightly woven 100 percent cotton fabric, to Atrium for the ballet’s efforts.
“Charlotte Ballet has really stepped up to help us with those smaller masks. That way, members of the community who want to make masks for our healthcare workers can focus on the adult masks and help us save our PPE (personal protective equipment),” said Helms.
The generous spirit of the Tree Tops Needlecrafters making fabric face masks has spread all over the community, and into the very talented hands of Charlotte Ballet's production department. We’re excited to share that the Charlotte Ballet will be the exclusive provider of pediatric masks. Due to the spread of coronavirus, they had to postpone the Sleeping Beauty performance series, which was scheduled to open in March. An organization filled with passionate creatives, they immediately pivoted from set design and costume production to sewing thousands of fabric face masks for children. These will be used by children who have flu-like symptoms, if and when the current supply of masks isn’t enough. Belk chipped in to help, with a large donation of sheets to be used as the material for the masks. On Wednesday, April 1, the first delivery of pediatric masks arrived at Levine Children’s Hospital. On behalf of all of us at Atrium Health, thank you to the Charlotte Ballet for putting the health and safety of our patients and healthcare workers on center stage!–To learn more about how to make sewn fabric masks, please email CommunityBenefit@AtriumHealth.org. Instructions for adult masks: https://bddy.me/3aEU1tx Instructions for pediatric masks: https://bddy.me/39CCQYu
Posted by Levine Children's on Thursday, April 2, 2020
Shinkle’s team includes a nose wire for the masks; each mask contains a pocket for filters that provide extra protection against germs and bacteria. Her team wears protective equipment throughout during the process, which includes the to-be-donated masks being dropped in a hot wash, then dried and enclosed in a sealed bag.
While they are creating masks to keep people safe, they are also very mindful of the look. They are costume designers after all.
“We try to stay away from solid patterns,” she said. “There is a flamingo print that has been really popular.”
“I’m proud we are doing our part to support healthcare workers and patients at this dire time,” she added. “This work reassures us that our skills are valuable.”
Joining the Efforts for Face Shields and Showing Kindness
Tifferney White, chief learning officer at Discovery Place, called from her car while driving to Discovery Place Science in uptown Charlotte to feed the animals there. Many have been transferred from Discovery Place Nature in Myers Park to the uptown location so everything is centralized. In total, there are 500 total individual animals that include reptiles, mammals, birds, amphibians and fish.
White, along with her other colleagues, are having to pitch in and assume new responsibilities during this time.
They are also stepping up to help in the community.
Discovery Place Science joined Charlotte Latin School and UNC Charlotte in their efforts to make 3D Protective Face Shields for Atrium Healthcare through the Charlotte MEDI Organizers. Two Discovery Place staff members are using 3D printers to create the bands that are placed on the top of the face shields.
“It is a process,” White says. “For an eight-hour day, each printer produces 8 bands.”
White said they also donated their remaining N95 masks, usually used for certain procedures for their living collections, to Atrium Health.
Over at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, Magda Guichard, design assistant and craft specialist, is part of a team of four creating masks for health care workers and patients ranging from non-infectious disease units to veterinary clinics. That way, they can provide their N95 masks to healthcare workers who need them the most.
Guichard and her co-workers have produced about 180 masks.
More masks will be made thanks to a donor that has access to medical grade fabric. Protective filters can be made of the material as well.
“We are trying to find ways to help our community,” said Guichard. “It makes me feel useful and helpful to the community so we can alleviate the demand for PPE’s that are in such high demand.”
Their work is also an extension of The Kindness Project, an initiative Children’s Theatre launched during its 2018-2019 season that developed and commissioned original plays for young audiences that are grounded in actively displaying kindness toward others.
“We really wanted to find a way to tie The Kindness Project in besides on stage and really show that our community is important to us and we really want to help somehow,” said Guichard.
Reappearances from Theatre Classics
Costume designer Sabrina Blanks has been connected to Theatre Charlotte since she was a high school student in the early 90s.
“I’ve served as a volunteer running crew member to stage manager to now costume designer.”
She first began “sewing for a purpose” during the Australian brush fires where she joined a group of crafters that sewed, knitted or crocheted pouches and bat wraps and sent them to Australia for relief efforts. Then it turned into a crafting for other purposes group.
Louanne Delaney, house manager at Theatre Charlotte, connected Blanks to the local Facebook Group Masks Made with Love. The group grew to 95 members in over a week and has made 1,000 masks for Atrium Healthcare workers.
Blanks began pulling leftover fabric from her personal stash and from past Theatre Charlotte shows.
“I have leftover fabric from ‘A Christmas Carol’ that has been accumulating over, gosh, probably the past five years,” Blanks said. “So, using just the scraps that had not made it into costumes. That ended up being several yards of fabric—about 20 yards. That can make quite a few masks.”
She also had leftover fabric from “Ain’t Misbehavin’” where she created dresses for each lady and “The Nerd” where she built a Creature from the Black Lagoon bodysuit of cotton and had two yards leftover from that.
Those shows left her with an array of colors to work with: houndstooth, green plaid and calico flower prints to purple, green and earth tones.
Thanks to a contact at Atrium Health, Blanks was provided the approved sheet pattern to make masks, created a step-by-step tutorial and published it on her social channels to help others.
She has been able to make four to five mases from a yard of fabric that also made a vest for Theatre Charlotte.
She has produced about 130 masks. Time is of the essence and Blanks created an assembly line to cut down on time and get it done. For her, it takes about three hours to create 10 masks.
“When she learned the CDC was informing Americans to use a bandana to cover their face, she was concerned. “Wow, a bandana,” she said. “We can do better than a bandana. I’ve got to start sewing some masks because that was scary to hear that from the CDC.”
Blanks also shared her solution for the elastic shortage in the U.S. due to everyone making masks: fabric bias tape straps.
“It’s actually better than elastic and will hold up better over multiple hot water washes than elastic will. Elastic will eventually start breaking down.”
When asked why this was important to her, she said “I was a biology major in college and one of the microbiology lab assistants. It makes me more heightened on how disease processes work, and I wanted to do everything I could using my skills as a person who can sew to help anyone out there who wanted to cover their face.”