Lindsey Gavel

Since the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed the U.S. earlier this month, doctors, nurses and other medical workers across the country have been warning people about a critical shortage of personal protective equipment, particularly face masks.

Now, two Garfield Park women are utilizing skills and talents to help shore up the local supply of masks.

Cassie Dodd, 31, of West Garfield Park, has read the news articles about the pandemic and seen the rush on equipment and supplies the event has prompted.

“There was an article where a doctor was basically begging for people to donate masks,” Dodd said. “And then the final straw was a mom in Walmart who was crying, because there were no more diapers, because people were panic buying and wiping out the supply of everything.”

Dodd, a Maywood native who first learned to sew at Proviso East High School, said she realized that she could help in the fight against COVID-19 by doing what she loves — right in the comfort of her own home.

“Right now, I’ve done about 150 masks,” said Dodd, who lives in Chicago. “They’re made of cotton and I’m using fabric that I had on hand. I also had one person donate about five yards of fabric.”

Dodd said that she’s had some help from her 14-year-old son, whom she homeschools. She also manages her son’s budding career as a young author, managing his speaking engagements and book signings, and building his brand.

Dodd is also developing her own fashion business. Two years ago, she hosted her first solo show, The Emancipation of C. Marie Designs, at the Douglas Park Ballroom in Chicago. The show featured her bridal collection, summer wear and couture looks.

“Once my son’s book tour ended in December, I started to pick back up and I had a few proms this year, weddings, birthdays and baby showers. I also did a full church choir — the pastor included.”

Dodd said that it takes roughly 15 to 20 minutes to make a single mask. Cutting the cloth takes the longest amount of time, she said.

Although many of her masks are basically white, no different than your standard facial mask, some are made with cotton ankara fabric and other colorful prints.

“I have some fancier designs, like sequin glitter,” she said. “My best friend works for the Department of Corrections, so she can only have a black one. I made her 10 black masks. My cousin, who is a paramedic in New York, has to have black, as well. I made her a black mask and a few fancy ones for her personal collection.”

Dodd said she plans on donating most of the masks she makes to hospital workers, but she’s more than welcome to make a mask for anyone else who needs one. They’ll just need to pitch in $10, since the designer is running low on fabric.

To request a mask, email or call Dodd at (815) 995-7207.

Linsey Gavel has been living in East Garfield Park for seven years. Normally, she makes her living as a pet sitter and a “canine massage therapist,” but as COVID-19 swept through Illinois and Gov. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order took effect, the demand for her services evaporated. Gavel said she originally started making face masks out of concern for her husband, who worked at a restaurant.

“About two weeks ago, I figured I’d try making some masks for him to wear while he’s out,” Gavel said. “He wore one to work and several of his coworkers asked if they could have some, and it kind of just built from there.”

While she never made masks before, Gavel drew upon her experience making costumes for Halloween and fandom conventions.

“I taught myself how to sew and how to read patterns a while back, and I found a mask pattern that I liked online, which was pretty easy to follow, so I decided to give it a try,” she said.

Gavel was also motivated by hearing her friend, who works as a nurse in Michigan, talking about the lack of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. It got Gavel thinking about other people who could use the masks.

“I’m completely out of work right now, and creating things is therapeutic for me. I’ve always been a crafter – I enjoy making and fixing things,” she said. “I have the time, I enjoy sewing, and I’m privileged enough to have access to a sewing machine. Why not help people out?”

Gavel started making masks for nurses and first-responders, and she reached out to neighbors and the community in general through a neighborhood Facebook group to see if anyone else would be interested.

“I’d say I’ve made around 100 so far, though I’ve kind of lost count at this point,” she said on April 2.

Gavel ran out of her own stash of fabric about 40 masks in before soliciting donations. And she got a great response, with many donations coming from people who didn’t request masks themselves.

“The community was incredibly quick and generous with donations of fabric and clean clothing for me to repurpose,” she said. “I’ve been keeping a list of who has requested masks and how many they’d like, and I’d say I’m about one-third of the way through my request list right now. It grows daily, so I’m trying to work through it as quickly as I can while still making sure everything is getting double-washed and then put right into a clean Ziploc bag for delivery.”

Gavel said she was heartened to see “several folks” volunteer to help her deliver the masks, as well as by how many people asked for extra masks for friends and coworkers.

“I’ve been contacted by nurses and first-responders to make a bunch of masks for their coworkers, as they’re constantly fighting to get the proper protection in the workplace,” she added. “Everyone is trying to help in any way that they can.”

Gavel said that she wanted to do her part to help as many people as possible.

“I’m planning to keep making masks as long as there’s a need for them. No one knows how long this is all going to last, but as long as I have the supplies to keep sewing, I’ll keep going if people need them,” she said.

Igor Studenkov contributed to this report.