Georgia College Costume Supervisor Sews Face Masks for Eatonton Nursing Home

Staff Report From Middle Georgia CEO

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

Doing her part by staying home didn’t seem like enough. Cathleen O’Neal wanted to do more to help her neighbors and the world get through the COVID-19 crisis.

As Georgia College’s Costume Supervisor—charged with making costumes for productions performed by the department of theatre—O’Neal put her sewing skills to good use. In two weeks, she has constructed 140 masks—donating 110 surgical and N-95 face covers for Atlanta area hospitals and, just recently, 30 N-95 face masks to meet a critical need at Eatonton Health & Rehabilitation nursing home.

“Just sitting around the house, watching the news, it gets very daunting,” O’Neal said, “especially if you’re helping by staying at home, but you want to do something more. It’s all about being resourceful and trying to help out in ways that you can.”

She found out about the nursing home shortage from Shannon Blair, a 2018 graduate of Georgia College, who’ll receive her master’s in criminal justice in May. As social service director, Blair is charged with the “mental wellness” of 78 residents.

Since COVID-19, the nursing home is experiencing a shortage of protective masks for its nurses and staff. Blair had worn the same mask all week. When she saw an article about O’Neal’s masks on Georgia College’s website, she reached out for help.

“The struggle for protection is everywhere, but this has given our facility one less worry in the middle of the crisis,” Blair said. “Many people think about hospitals, but they forget the nursing homes are struggling too.”

“With this donation, we’re able to put full focus on the residents and not have to think about how to conserve masks,” she said.

It takes about 10 minutes for O’Neal to make one pleated, surgical mask. About 50 surgical masks can be sewn in a day without breaks. The N-95s are more involved with wired pockets around the nose that hold filters.

Only cotton material can be used, since cotton is a natural filter. O’Neal is using fabric leftover from past student projects—colorful, polka dotted, striped and even featuring baby elephants. She washes the fabric and frequently sanitizes her cutting tools.

“This really spoke to me,” she said. “It’s a great way for the community and those of us in the theatre and costume world to help out in our way. It warms my heart that I can do something.”