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Good to Know: Assisted-living home residents make mask kits for neighbors

Jacqueline Sander, executive director, and Lorraine Kozak, resident,

Jacqueline Sander, executive director, and Lorraine Kozak, resident, of The Birches Assisted Living on April 8, 2020 in Clarendon Hills, Illinois. Credit: TNS/Chicago Tribune/E. Jason Wambsgans

Each day, 98-year-old Lorraine Kozak sits at a table in her nursing home and carefully cuts out swatches of fabric and places them into plastic bags with elastic and instructions on how to turn them into face masks.

Then these kits are placed outside The Birches Assisted Living in Clarendon Hills, Illinois, near Chicago, for someone to pick up and distribute to neighbors who need them during the coronavirus outbreak. Each kit can make up to 10 masks.

“I feel like I’m helping,” Kozak said by phone. “I can’t be out there with the health care workers, but at least I feel like I’m doing something.”

The executive director of The Birches, Jackie Sander, said she knew hospitals were not accepting homemade fabric masks but thought other nursing homes in the area could use them. Sander said she put a call out for donations of materials for residents to make masks and was overwhelmed by the response.

She had originally planned on residents making the masks, but the facility received so many donations they couldn’t sew fast enough.

So they decided instead to create the kits.

“It’s been a wonderful response,” Kozak said. “There’s a lot of people involved in the Clarendon Hills area, donating the material and then picking up the kits to make the masks with.”

Those picking up the kits are encouraged to distribute them to elderly neighbors and at nearby assisted living centers.

“People have been religiously coming by to pick up kits every night,” Sander said.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now encouraging everyone to wear a mask while outside, Sander said she has seen many more people picking up kits to sew for their own family and children. The residents can put together 10 to 15 kits a day.

There had been no cases of coronavirus at The Birches as of mid-April, but the outbreak still weighs on residents, Sander said. Visitors have not been allowed inside, so the center has been doing what it can to keep residents connected with friends and family.

“They are concerned for what’s going on in the world,” Sander said. “This has been giving them some sort of purpose to keep them positive.”

Kozak has been a resident at The Birches for three years, and before that lived in the Hinsdale area.

“I’ve always done a lot of volunteering when I was younger, and I feel like I have to keep doing that,” she said. “I’m 98 years old, so I’m trying to do my best.”

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