ORWELL — The town of Orwell in northern Oswego County covers 41 square miles and at last count had about 1,174 inhabitants. The rural hamlet’s four corners at the intersection of County Routes 2 and 22 are the hub of the community, with the town hall, village diner, volunteer fire department, post office and Methodist church all prominent buildings.
For the past few weeks, a small army of 40 residents, known as the Orwell Community Association, have been busy assembling materials and sewing re-usable face masks, gowns, and surgical hats for Oswego County’s COVID-19 response team.
Ranging in age from teens to senior citizens, so far this group has produced 438 masks, 35 surgical caps and 19 isolation gowns for Oswego County’s COVID-19 response team. There are another 70 gowns cut out, and 200 or so surgical caps ready to be sewn. The items are being used by first responders, health care personnel, and workers in public places such as the county solid waste transfer stations.
Armed with irons, ironing boards, scissors and sewing machines, a handful of volunteers visit the Orwell Fire Hall to cut fabrics, assemble supplies, and package kits which are then delivered to the homes of other seamstresses. In another week they will pick up the finished face masks, hats and gowns.
The idea started as the brainchild of Orwell Fire Chief Nick Marshall and quickly grew into a community effort, said Marshall.
“Patriotism is alive and well in the Northland,” said Marshall. “This project gives people a way to help their community, support the COVID-19 responders and contribute to the county’s efforts. Without the support of the Orwell Fire Company, Orwell Community Association, the Pine Meadows Wesleyan Church, and the northern Oswego County community, this project would never have been successful.”
Marshall said supplies have come from members’ fabric scrap bags, private donations and Oswego County.
There is a shortage of medical gowns for health care workers and first responders, and working with Oswego County Emergency Management Coordinator Renee Fox, the group was able to find a free pattern online. The fire chief himself found a source of fabric for the gowns in Georgia, and the fire department purchased the material.
“The Orwell Volunteer Fire Department has always been very proactive in helping the community,” said Fox. “Nick reached out to me to see what they could do to help. He wanted to support the county’s COVID-19 response efforts. We have had an ongoing shortage of face masks, caps and gowns, and the community group was a perfect solution for us. Several individuals are sewing pieces in their homes to be delivered to the county’s distribution center in Oswego.”
Many of the cloth face masks will be used in county departments and agencies that interact with the public, such as solid waste employees and food pantry volunteers.
Fox said she researched several medical gown patterns online, selected one that would meet their needs, and created a facsimile gown. The pattern was printed on 8 ½ by 11 inch sheets of paper and had to be pieced together and modified before they were satisfied with the product.
“The biggest need is gowns, but they are the most complicated to sew,” said Fox. “The county ordered gowns from a vendor several weeks ago and we still haven’t received them. This community group is helping to get first responders, hospitals and nursing homes the proper protective equipment that they need to be able to treat patients.”
Fox said there is still a need for skilled seamstresses to volunteer to make gowns.
“Gowns are the most complicated to assemble,” she said. Anyone interested in helping should email Renee.Fox@oswegocounty.com.
A video about the group’s work is posted on the Oswego County YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/vWNHXPC46o0.
“We cannot thank them enough for all they’re doing to support the response to COVID-19,” said Fox. “Over the past few weeks this group has donated almost 500 hours between the volunteers assembling the kits and the home-based seamstresses who are doing the sewing.”
“We are indebted to Nick Marshall, the Orwell Fire Department, and the community groups for their generous donations of volunteer hours and supplies,” said Legislature Chairman James Weatherup. “They are an amazing example of what people can do working together to overcome some of the challenges we face with the COVID-19 situation.”
Others who have donated items and supplies to the Oswego County’s COVID-19 response include Tracy Fleming of Mexico, who is manufacturing face shields on 3D printers in partnership with Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES, and Black Rifle Coffee Company, who donated 100 bags of coffee to EMS responders. Virginia Ambroscecchia provided the county with replacement face shields, Ambrose Yerdon gifted N95 masks and Martin Allen donated a bi-pap machine. Others who have made donations over the past month include the Fulton Companies and Healthway of Pulaski, Jason Rhodes, Lakeside Family Dentistry and Charles Vaughn.
“While we are very grateful to all who are supporting the county’s COVID-19 emergency response efforts, I want to remind you that all of us need to do our part to help stop the spread of this disease,” said Legislature Chairman Weatherup. “Stay home as much as possible, follow voluntary travel schedules, and keep six feet from other people. “