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Special photo

Ashlyn Sheppard is shown with one of the masks she has made to be provided to first responders and healthcare workers.

Several local talented individuals are using their sewing skills to try to provide some personal protection for medical providers, first responders, essential workers and the immune-suppressed by producing and donating face masks.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) meaning medical-grade masks and gowns are in short supply in places across the United States. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has said he and his administration is working to acquire more PPEs for hospitals and public health departments across the state.

Mercer University senior Ashlyn Sheppard and her mother, Briarwood’s recently named STAR teacher Kayleigh Sheppard, have stitched masks for area medical providers. Ashlyn Sheppard’s father is Dr. Christopher Sheppard with Family Care Group, who specializes in internal medicine.

Ashlyn Sheppard, who will earn her degree in music education in May and plans to teach at Briarwood Academy after graduation, came up with the idea, according to her mom.

A group of people in Washington/Wilkes County reached out to them, requesting the masks, according to Ashlyn Sheppard.

Doctors and nurses had run low on PPEs, she said. “Something is better than nothing.”

Sheppard said the medical providers would use the donated masks to cover the approved masks provided by their hospital facility. This is one way they can extend the usefulness of the professional-grade masks, she said.

“My mom used to own a store where she made clothes and purses,” Ashlyn Sheppard said. “We started looking through the material.”

She and her mother found heavy, soft flannel used to make baby blankets. They ironed backing onto it to help it hold its shape and then gave it another layer of protection by sewing a third layer of thick curtain backing onto that.  Ashlyn Sheppard said her mother cut out the shapes for the masks, ironed the fabric and she then sewed the pieces together.

“We started on Sunday night (March 22) looking through fabric and we finished yesterday afternoon (March 25). We made 50,” the younger Sheppard said. “We sent 10 of them to a private practice in Sandersville. We’ll take the rest of them to Wilkes County.”

Sheppard said volunteers from Briarwood Academy in Warrenton donated elastic for the masks and Lysol to disinfect the handmade protective wear.

Elena Jackson, owner of Elena’s Alterations Shop and Sophie’s Pet Corner in Thomson, is sewing handmade masks three days a week. The public health crisis has shut down schools and cancelled or postponed all student activities, including the junior/senior prom. Prom season would typically be one of Jackson’s busiest times of the year.

“I’ve been sewing them (masks) 24/7. I’ve closed my store three days a week. Prom has been rescheduled and is not a priority right now,” Jackson said.

She credits one of her regular customers,  attorney Walton Hardin Jr., with getting her started on the masks when he handed her a $25 Wal-Mart gift card. Hardin had come to pick up a shirt Jackson had sewn a button on and she told him there was no charge. So, he later came back and handed her a gift card.

Harlem Realtor and  former McDuffie County Sheriff’s Office investigator Al Reeves heard about Jackson’s masks and contributed $200 more toward materials. Jackson said several of her customers, Wal-Mart and Hidden Treasures Consignment also made donations toward her mask making effort.

She has given some masks out to private individuals who are immune-compromised, and to several nurses. Jackson said she’s made masks for the Thomson Police Department. They’re camouflage printed material on one side, and hearts on the other, she said. Jackson said she steamed and sprayed disinfectant on the masks that contain four layers of fabric.

TPD Chief Anson Evans clarified that his department has approved PPEs for police officers to use if the need arises, but that the donation of homemade masks by Jackson was appreciated.

“Her donation was in good faith and her being a generous person,” Evans said.

Jackson said she has also donated masks to the City of Harlem and dropped some off at Chick Fil A.

“Now of course I’m out of elastic,” she said. “In the meantime I’m using string.”

Like many small business owners across the state and county, Jackson’s business has dropped off in the last three weeks. Despite the slowdown, she says she is doing what she can to help others.

“We cry together and we pray together,” Jackson said.