Transportation Security Administration officers are following CDC advice and staying home when they are not working at the airport, and a few of them are making good use of their time by keeping busy sewing masks for family, friends and first responders on the front lines of the coronavirus.
Supervisory TSA officer Susan Schultz, who works at General Mitchell International Airport (MKE) in Milwaukee, has sewn more than 300 masks, sometimes working until midnight to meet what has become a growing demand for masks in her community. And Justine Waldron, a TSA officer who works at Barnstable Municipal Airport (HYA) on Cape Cod, has sewn more than 140 masks after work and after helping her 11-year-old son with his homework. As TSA officers, they both know the importance of wearing masks and other personal protection when out in public.
Schultz’s daughter works for a senior advisement agency and mentioned to her mom that a lot of the seniors were in need of masks. So Schultz, a 13-year TSA veteran, joined her daughter and one of her daughter’s colleagues in mask-making. Schultz, the more experienced and skilled seamstress among the three, jumped in to do her part and after much practice in mask-making, she’s got it down to just six steps to produce a mask in about seven minutes. “I joined them and I’ve been sewing endlessly ever since,” Schultz said.
She is making the masks for free for seniors, care-givers, police officers and paramedics, and finds it to be “especially rewarding work when I find out who I’m helping.”
Waldron’s colorful fabric masks feature Native American themes, navigation themes, comic book characters and other lively patterns for her family, friends and her fellow TSA officers to wear outside of work. The hand washable masks have colorful ribbon to tie around the head or ears. Waldron, who has worked for TSA for three years, uses ribbon instead of elastic because prior to joining TSA, she worked as a certified nurse’s assistant and found that when she wore masks, the elastic hurt the back of her ears, so she opted to use ribbon to enable the recipient to choose whether to tie it around their ears or head.
“I really wanted to do my part,” Waldron said. “People are scared and the masks will help” ease their minds when they have to be outside of their homes. She has posted photos of her handiwork on social media and as a result, “they’ve become hot items.” She first provided them to co-workers and family. She’s got relatives who work at a health care facility, a wastewater treatment facility and a gas company, and each received the masks that they needed. Next she turned to making masks for other essential workers in her community.
Waldron pays for all of the materials out of her own pocket. “Some people have tried to give me money, but that’s just not the right thing to do. We all need to stay healthy and get past” the pandemic.
Meanwhile, TSOs at Newark Liberty International Airport have converted 100 pairs of brand new socks into 200 masks to provide to two local New Jersey homeless shelters.
“I see homeless people and I got to thinking that none of them have access to masks during the pandemic,” said Lead TSA Officer Eliane Pascoal, a 14-year veteran of TSA who contributed to the purchase of the masks. “I had seen a video online about how to make masks from socks” and the idea was born.
The “how to” video was shared with colleagues and a handful of TSA officers volunteered to convert newly purchased socks into masks when they were not busy screening passengers or when they were on their breaks. TSA Manager Nicole Parisi also contributed to the purchase of the masks and the two bought dozens and dozens of packages of new socks and the project began.
When completed, each sock-mask was individually packaged in a zip-top plastic bag and a card inserted along with an instruction note.
This story was updated on April 21 to include the news from Newark.