Gregory C. Miglino Jr., like other leaders of first responder agencies across Long Island, fears his Bellport ambulance service will run out of personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.
So the chief of the South Country Ambulance Company, which serves 45,000 residents in south-central Suffolk County, said he was humbled to receive masks and medical gowns — with 100 more gowns en route — from a collection of Montana seamstresses that includes members of a community sewing group, high school students and residents of a Hutterite colony.
“I feel extremely grateful," Miglino said. "All Americans, in order to defend every inch of America, have to get behind this."
Tami Krone, a textiles teacher at Choteau High School in northwest Montana who helped coordinate the manufacturing and transport of the supplies, said the two time zones and 2,200-plus miles that separate the seamstresses from Suffolk County didn’t matter.
“It feels good to be part of the solution,” said Krone, who lives on a ranch near the tiny Montana town of Augusta.
The pivotman in the Big-Sky-to-South-Country pipeline was Walter Barry, 48, a Brookhaven native who headed west after graduating from Bellport High School to attend the University of Montana.
When Barry, a former Montana state trooper, became the chief of a rural fire department about three years ago, he contacted Miglino, a longtime family friend, and asked for help. Miglino sent the agency, Del Bonita Fire, a shipment of medical supplies.
“We had a $1,800 a year budget” with limited resources, said Barry, who now helps run his wife’s family ranch. “Greg has been very supportive of what we were trying to do.”
During a phone conversation last month, as the pandemic began to hit Long Island hard, Miglino told Barry he feared he would run out of gowns and other personal protective equipment.
Barry put out a call for help on Facebook, asking seamstresses in surrounding communities to help South Country Ambulance Company.
A sewing circle in the town of Cut Bank answered the call, creating more than a dozen gowns. The gowns are reusable because they are made of Tyvek, a strong but lightweight and water-resistant material used to make personal protective equipment and in home construction.
“When Walter told us about a place in need, the distance didn’t matter,” said Irma Smrcka, a member of the sewing circle.
Krone got three students to manufacture masks, and although they are not medical grade, Miglino said they are very welcome. The masks can be slipped over medical-grade masks, extending their usage. South Country is also sharing them with staff at nursing homes, which have struggled with old and inadequate personal protective equipment.
“We are in rural Montana and the world can seem small here,” Krone said. “I wanted to let the kids see the bigger world, and that you can help no matter where you are.”
Krone also worked with members of the Milford Colony, a Hutterite community about 75 miles north of Helena, Montana's state Capitol, to manufacture gowns made from plastic. The Hutterites, like the Amish and Mennonites, are Anabaptists.
Krone said she put 100 gowns in the mail for South Country on Tuesday — along with something equally important.
“I’m sending prayers and positive thoughts,” Krone said.
Miglino said he won’t forget what these strangers thousands of miles away did for his ambulance company. He hopes to travel to Montana to thank the seamstresses in person, he said.
“I will pay this forward,” Miglino said, “I can assure you of that.”