Before mid-March, she had only used the sewing machine four times. Today it is rarely turned off.
Jeanette Monteith of Falling Waters in Berkeley County has made more than 2,000 masks in response to the COVID-19 health and safety measures, donating more than half.
“I had been following the pandemic in China on the news since December, and then became more concerned when it quickly made its way to Italy,” Monteith said. “Hearing that medical staff there were reporting a shortage of personal protective equipment, I wanted to act and do something before it hit us; but what? Then once I heard masks might be required for not only frontline workers, but also the public I knew the demand would be greater than the supply.” Even though every time she used her sewing machine she had to refer to the user’s manual on how to thread the bobbin, she did not let her lack of experience thwart her determination.
“I saw a post on Facebook that had a link to a video on how to make face masks,” she said. “So, I watched it over and over and took off from there. I raised some money from family and friends, so I could get the supplies needed to get rolling on a big scale.
“I was so focused on this endeavor it devoured my time. My family was happy to see me turn a very bad situation into something good, but they were losing time with me. I needed some helping hands.”
Monteith hired a few women who were out of work, because of the stay-at-home orders. A few people also volunteered to help, including her husband, David, and their four children – Angenette “Gigi”, David, Tobias “Toby”, and Gloriana “Glo” – along with a few of their friends.
More than 1,000 masks were donated to healthcare workers, nursing homes, food-service workers, essential employees, and high-risk individuals in West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania in the first 10 weeks.
Monteith officially named her business MODO, it stands for Make One, Donate One.
“For every mask we make, we donate one to a worthy group to continue our mission,” she said.
When her venture became known in her area, requests for masks came flooding in. She needed more machines besides her own and the small child’s one Glo was using. She posted a request on Facebook to see if anyone had a machine to donate.
Monteith believes one of the ones she received was heaven sent.
“A woman donated a Singer 301A to me. She said it was used by her grandfather and then her father, but the lady wasn’t using it and thought that now was the perfect time and purpose to give it up,” Monteith said. “This machine is amazing.”
The Singer is circa 1953-1956. The donor said her father, who had just recently passed, used it to make drapes for the White House under the Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations.
Monteith said she loves using the machine, watching her children maneuver it, and knowing that this same machine that stitched draperies seen by dignitaries, is also stitching masks worn by heroes caring for others.
“This is God’s work every step of the way,” Monteith said. “When people thank me, I immediately say ‘the glory goes to god.’ He is with us in so many places, we just don’t always take the time to see it or accept the nudge.”
Monteith’s own sewing machine was a gift from her mother-in-law Merlene Monteith.
“She was an excellent seamstress,” she said, acknowledging that Merlene might just be the guardian angel of sorts for the vocation.
Merlene Monteith passed away one year ago.
“She would certainly be amazed not only to see her grandkids using my (sewing) machine, but also to see my husband involved,” she said. The family made masks for the hospice care facility that took care of Merlene. “It’s been a touching memory to make.”
Caring for others has been her livelihood. Monteith holds a doctorate degree in special education. She teaches in nearby Fredrick, Maryland. She also serves her parish, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Martinsburg, as a confirmation class instructor.
“It’s how God made me,” she said.
Part of the MODO mission is to help non-profit organizations and other parishes.
The organization Alex’s Lemonade Stand (which raises month for pediatric cancer research) recently partnered with MODO. Not only does Monteith donate a mask for each one sold by the organization’s online sales, but she also gives them a monetary donation for each sale.
Monteith sells her masks to the general public on her Etsy site www.etsy.com/shop/MODOMasks. Individuals from 22 states, as well as, Canada and the United Kingdom have purchased her product.
To learn more how you can help or get your parish involved as a non-profit email her at email@example.com.