Two of Big Bear Valley’s women’s groups have a common cause. The American Association of University Women and the Big Bear Lake Quilters Guild answered the call to sew face masks for the hospital.

“Everybody’s keeping connected, sending inspiration, memes and video links,” said Christie Walker, president of the Big Bear chapter of AAUW. “A friend sent me a video link of a hospital reaching out to its community for masks. I thought we should do this.”

Walker reached out to Connie Friel, an AAUW member whose husband is John Friel, the Bear Valley Community Healthcare District CEO. A couple of days later, the AAUW was given the go-ahead. The hospital had masks, but yes, would accept the masks for potential future use.

“In a time when we all feel powerless in the midst of this pandemic, it helps to be able to do something useful,” Walker said. “If making masks can assist our hospital and our front-line healthcare works in even a small way, then it’s worth doing.”

Meanwhile one of the Big Bear Lake Quilters Guild members brought up the same idea to the guild’s president, Deanna Melzian. The guild had plenty of fabric that met the CDC requirements. Melzian, who is also a member of the Big Bear AAUW, spoke with Walker about the project.

“We decided to pool our resources,” Melzian said. The guild provided the AAUW with fabric for their project.

Eleven members of the AAUW are sewing masks, Walker said. The pattern being used was created by a hospital back East, she said. Walker hopes to deliver the masks to the hospital next week.

Martha Burge is one of the AAUW participants. She and her granddaughter are working together as a team to create the masks. “I think this is a good opportunity to teach by example,” Burge said. “When times are tough, instead of thinking about your own problems, you can do something to help others. The kids are getting on board with the idea. They are also really supportive of the local restaurants that are providing take out meals. Grandma may sew, but she’s a reluctant cook.”

A half dozen quilt guild members are also sewing masks. While there is plenty of fabric, there is a shortage of elastic in Big Bear, Melzian said.  The quilt guild has some on order and hopes to have it within a few days. Meanwhile, members are sewing masks with ties. They’ve already delivered about a dozen masks to a Big Bear doctor’s office.

Melzian said if the masks can’t be used by the hospital, she would like to distribute them to the grocery stores for their employees.

Walker was able to purchase the final roll of elastic available at Yarn Designers Boutique in Big Bear City. It’s enough to make 175 masks, Walker said. They have approximately 55 masks completed so far.

Material is picked up and masks dropped off to Walker at her Baldwin Lake home. She has devised a system with a drop box to help maintain physical distancing, she said.

Once the masks are completed, they will be delivered to Bear Valley Community Hospital. Walker said she is working with Chief Nursing Officer Kerri Jex to arrange a coordinated hand-off.

Jex said the hospital is grateful for the support. “They reached out to us,” Jex said about the AAUW and quilters guild. “We do have a sufficient supply right now due to community support, but we are anticipating a shortage.”

Jex said the hospital received several donations of supplies from the community including Ski Patrol, several businesses and individuals. “We’ve received donations from Dominoe’s Pizza, Starbucks, North Pole Fudge Co. and the Tea & Coffee Exchange,” Jex said. “I’d hate to miss anybody, but we’ve been really grateful.”

The Bear Valley Community Hospital staff is doing well, Jex said. “We’re lucky to have such highly skilled, highly trained people,” she said. “Our staff is a really resilient group of nurses, physicians and clinical staff. They’ve really stepped up to the plate to work hard to prepare and be ready.”

The inflow of patients has not increased so far, but admission takes longer with the newly required screening process. The staff has been busy preparing the facility to accommodate an expected increase, Jex said. “We have extra ventilators, we set up an outdoor triage area, rearranged services and brought in extra units,” she said. “We’ve worked with the state, the city and the fire department.”

Jex said the masks supplied by the women’s groups will be used for staff or for patients. The masks can be sterilized by washing, but Jex said the hospital will use UV lights to do the sterilization. Masks used by patients will be sent home with them, she said.

Melzian said the Big Bear Lake Quilters Guild is happy to do what it can to help. “I hope they stay well,” Melzian said about Big Bear’s health care professionals.

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