Masks for the Community

photo of masks created by Susan Murphy

Every Saturday, the University of Delaware’s Susan Murphy clips handmade face masks to the fence outside her home in Philadelphia. Anyone can take one of these masks, designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, for free. So far, Murphy has made and distributed more than 300 masks to her community through what she calls the Fishtown Free Mask Project.

Murphy, who is an instructor of operations management at UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, said that when Pennsylvania’s governor announced that residents should wear face masks when out in public, she decided to make and give away masks to her neighbors and members of her community. She has sponsored the program through her Philadelphia-themed ornament-making business, Jawnaments.

Murphy has also donated masks to local businesses that are getting ready to reopen. Additionally, she’s mailed them to friends around the country, including her UD colleagues and her former UD roommate. Her neighbors have donated fabric, and Murphy’s skill has increased such that she can make 20 or more masks in an evening.

She also said that she’s received a very positive response from her neighborhood. Some days, she added, groups of 15 or more people will be waiting at her gate on days when she distributes the masks. Some days, she will get more than 100 requests.

“Feedback has been very positive and comments on Facebook and Instagram have been overwhelmingly kind,” Murphy said. “I am humbled by all the messages I’ve received—and by all the offers for financial support, which I’ve declined. I suggest that folks order takeout instead—to use their money to support the much-impacted local economy instead of my efforts!”

Murphy is also balancing this work with a full course load of teaching for the Lerner College. She’s teaching live, virtual operations management classes to more than 150 students via Zoom and Canvas.

“Schoolwork is my top priority—and I only sew when I have downtime from that, usually in the evenings and on weekends,” Murphy said. “Sewing has actually become a huge stress relief for me.”

For readers who would like to do something similar in their own communities, Murphy shared a few pieces of advice: “If you know how to sew, search Facebook for ‘masks’ and you are likely to find a mask making group in your area. You can find patterns, supply sources and can coordinate pick up of what you produce. If you want to help folks in your immediate area, you can simply post them in your yard, apartment building or even give to local businesses in need.”

Murphy also shared a simple, free mask sewing pattern online. For those who cannot make their own masks, she recommends Etsy as a great place to purchase them.

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