Michelle’s Masks has donated more than 5,000 masks so far to area medical facilities, institutions, organizations, first responders and individuals.

Gilbertsville business owner and Pike Township resident Michelle Franchino created Michelle’s Masks to make and donate masks free of charge to pay it forward to first responders and medical professionals.

The masks are available for anyone, but they are not for sale, emphasized Franchino.

“You have to do what’s right in your heart! I did this because of the need, not because of attention,” Franchino said. “If you have ever had to use the services of first responders, ever been in the hospital, lost a loved one, been through a fire, been in a car accident, needed community services and the list goes on — then donate a mask or cover. It’s the best way to show them all you care about them, too!”

Providing these masks is her way of saying thank you.

“I’ve used those services over and over. You never get a chance to say thank you or to pay it forward.”

To all police, fire, EMS, nurses, doctors, and community service organizations, she says “thank you” for helping when they were needed most.

“It’s a small token but maybe if we cover enough faces it will save someone's life. Covering up protects you, protects me and so many others! One person can’t move a mountain alone, but as a community we can do it together! Let’s cover every beautiful face! Thank you to all those helping to make this happen!” said Franchino.

The mask project started around March 18. A vendor in a co-op, she first learned about the need for people to sew masks through the co-op message board.

“It started with the need for masks. I have a sewing machine. I can sew,” said Franchino.

Franchino set aside her business activity — she restores and refurbishes furniture for her shop Yesterday’s Vintage in Gilbertsville — to sew and assemble masks from a pattern that she designed.

“My cover is designed to provide complete coverage over the N-95 mask to keep it clean and extend its life,” she said.

Finding many were in need of masks, Michelle’s Masks started donated masks locally and beyond. The Facebook page Making the Mask was created on March 22 and the project has grown from there exponentially.

“What I really want to do is give back,” she said.

Masks have been donated to various institutions, nursing homes, medical facilities and organizations, including Western Berks, Boyertown, Bally first responders and Havertown first responders, as well as individuals, and too many others to name.

“I don’t say no. If they ask, I try to get them out within a few days.”

There was also a last minute request and delivery of masks for a recent Miller-Keystone Blood Drive in Bally. The masks have been donated as far as the Lehigh Valley and even out of state.

While Franchino sews many of the masks herself, she does not do this alone. About 26 volunteers work in their own homes sewing masks. Others have contributed bolts of material and supplies to sustain the program.

“There’s a lot of people that make it work. This wouldn’t be possible without them,” she said. “I want to say thank you to all of the people who are making this possible.”

There are also precut kits being distributed so people can sew and donate masks themselves or return to her for donating.

“So many kits coming back finished and going right out to those who need them most! Thank you to all the amazing sewers in our community and beyond! Covers coming in from out of state, within the state and the drop off box! You all make it possible to keep these masks free for those who need them!” she said.

“We are covering EMS, ambulance, police, nursing homes, Miller-Keystone, hospitals, local organizations, individual community members in need. Covering faces protect you, me and keep our medical professionals, first responders safe, too!”

Franchino recommends everyone continue to practice social distancing. Also, if you can, make an appointment and give blood, “It saves lives!”

“I have had the pleasure of meeting a lot of great people in the community, the donors, volunteers cutting to make kits, the sewers making the covers and returning them for distribution. Without all of them this would not be possible, their support has touched my heart and I would like to say, ‘Thank you,’ to them all.”

Franchino also thanks Calico in Strafford, Pa., and The Pennsylvania School of the Performing Arts, “Their generosity kept us going when we were short on supplies.”

She also thanks Bally Borough Councilman Joshua Sloan “for his unconditional support picking up donations, making drop offs of finished covers, bringing food and anything that was asked.”

The community can help Michelle’s Masks continue its efforts to make and donate masks.

Fabric is always needed. She has an Amazon wish list or monetary donations are accepted and used to purchase additional supplies and cover expenses.

For more information, follow Making the Mask on Facebook. The name of the Facebook page was previously incorrectly listed as Michelle's Masks.

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