Team Work

Daughter Brenda Tomanek and her mother, Sylvia Nielsen, above, team up to sew face masks for health professionals needing them. The demand became apparent when Tomanek’s daughter Katie, who is a nurse in the Houston area, said there was a shortage of them. Together, they whipped up 50 masks.

What does one do when everyone has been asked to practice social distancing? Well Sylvia Nielsen, a retired seamstress with a 34 year career in the clothing manufacturing industry with Isaacson/Carrico; and her daughter Brenda Tomanek, an educator in El Campo ISD for 30 years, decided to do something to help out those on the front line having to continue to show up for work regardless of the real threat of COVID-19.

“In times like these, we all want to know what we can do to help,” Tomanek said. “It wasn’t a hard decision to make since my daughter is an RN-BSN at Women’s Hospital of Texas in the Houston Medical Center. The news kept saying there was a mask shortage and videos of people making them were popping up on my Facebook feed.”

El Campo High School head girls soccer coach and educator Stephanie Cortez is also making protective masks for family and friends.

“The first 25 I made I gave to people around here including a family with someone that has cancer,” she said. “I have an order for 45 going to an office so I am in the process of making 60 or so more.”

For Cortez, whose hobby is quilting, it was just the right thing to do, plus with no school in session, she had the time plus materials on hand to devote to the project.

“I saw a post calling people that sew to make masks and I figured it was a small way that I can contribute during this time,” Cortez said. “I have tons of fabric, time on my hands, and family that work in the healthcare system so I wanted to do something that gave back to the community.”

Cortez’ two daughters, Makenzie and Madisyn, are also assisting in the project.

“They are helping by picking out fabric and putting the elastic in,” she said.

Tomanek consulted with her daughter Katie to see if they were in need of masks.

“Katie put it out there to her colleagues that we might try making some,” she said. “Within a few minutes, she had orders for 35 masks.”

Tomanek, knowing her mother’s ability to sew was a no-brainer, asked if she would help with the task.

“After experimenting with two different patterns, we came up with one we felt would be easy enough to produce that number of masks quickly.”

Knowing protection from the virus was important, Tomanek looked into the filtration that would be needed and found that an air conditioner filter material could be used with a rating of 1900 or higher. Tomanek and her mother started the project on Sunday and together produced and packaged 40 masks to fill Katie’s orders along with the extras.

“In times like these it is so important to pray for and do what we can to protect our loved ones,” Tomanek said. “Katie and her fellow nurses mean the world to us, and we would do anything to help protect them.”

Tomanek says they reminisced about the days her mother worked at Isaacson/Carrico”

“We laughed hard and thought of many of the beautiful people who came into their lives during that time,” Tomanek said.

Tomanek didn’t continue the long history of sewing in her family, but she was able to assist her mom in many of the operations each mask required.

“Mom has four machines in her home, a Brother’s embroidery/sewing machine that she does most of her work on, a White Superlock serger, her first machine a 1963 Fleetwood, and a vintage late 1800’s machine that belonged to my mom’s mother, Pauline Popp.”

This isn’t Nielsen’s first act of love to utilize her sewing abilities. She has a history of stepping up when her sewing skills are needed.

“She designed and created weighted vests when her other granddaughter, Cameron Urbanovsky, was in need of one,” Tomanek said. “This led to making vests for over 100 other children in need of these same vests.”

Nielsen then partnered with her other daughter, Lea Urbanovsky, whose family does mission trips to Haiti.

“When they were working with Wheels for the World, a Joni and Friends non-profit, mom sewed over 200 bags for the Haitian people to place on their wheelchairs which carried their belongings.”

Her mother is currently involved in sewing prayer blankets with the St. Philip’s prayer blanket ministry and has sewn over 250 prayer blankets.

So back to the question at hand, what do you do when you are asked to practice social distancing?

“You think of how you can help out those in need by identifying the need, using your talents, and stepping up,” Tomanek said.

Tomanek has posted a video and some information about creating masks on her Facebook page to help the people serving on the front line. Cortez is following instructions posted by Two Chicks Quilting on Facebook.

On Thursday, Tomanek posted this on Facebook:

“Attention all seamstresses: Mom and I have had a lot of interest in sewing masks. We have orders and can’t help out at this time. I hear the nursing home may need some so if anyone can help. Maybe call the nursing home and ask them what they need. I have the video posted on how we made ours for Katie and her nurses. Just FYI for anyone wanting to help.”

Debbie Roome of Louise is also making masks.

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