by Janet Addison
Arkansas Baptists have added another layer to ministry during COVID-19—the sewing machine! For a month now, Michele Goynes, a member of First Baptist in Cabot, has been using her sewing machine to produce cloth masks that she donates to people serving on the front lines of the pandemic. Michele stopped counting at 400 masks.
Initially, her sister-in-law asked her to make some for family members. “One’s a police officer, so I made a couple and thought it was fun. I told my husband Duane I could make a lot of money selling these things, but that just felt wrong. I never could get peace about selling them, so I just gave them away to people who needed them,” she said.
Michele posted a notice on Facebook that she was making masks. She’d place them on her front porch, along with a box for donations to help defray the costs of the materials. She distributed about 75 masks this way. Soon, however, Michele became very discouraged. While out on a $60 fabric run to Walmart, she received a request from the emergency room at UAMS for 70 masks. When she returned home, she found the masks on the porch had been taken but only $1 had been donated in exchange. “I was disappointed in people and didn’t know if I could keep doing this.” The next morning during her quiet time, Michele read Luke 12:22-26 and was reminded that God is the provider of what we need, so why should we worry? She felt the Lord saying to her, “Keep going, Michele, I’ve got you.”
“All day I kept sewing and crying and thought I’ll just keep doing it because God will provide.” Then friends and family members began sending Michele money to keep her mask ministry going. Long-distance military friends on Facebook messaged her about helping with materials and shipping costs. Other people dropped off boxes of cloth at her house. One friend offered to pick up some heavily discounted fabric Michele found in another city.
As her resources grew, so did her orders. “I don’t know how they found me,” Michele said. “Somebody tagged me on Facebook about helping,” and then she started getting messages about orders from people she didn’t know.
Other crafters in the area found out about her efforts and joined the project. To meet the demand, Michele now works with six other people—some from her church, some from the neighborhood, and others she connected with online. “Everybody’s sewing at their own house. I drop fabric off on one porch and pick up finished masks from another porch. We’ve not had any contact with each other.” She says it’s been interesting to see how God has provided all these people and resources.
Together this group of sewers has provided masks to a local nursing home, an Alabama NICU, the VA hospital in Little Rock, UAMS, a Searcy hospital, and healthcare workers in Texas.
Although fabric has been fairly easy to acquire, Michele says “you can’t get elastic anywhere anymore. I’ve been using ponytail holders from the Dollar Tree, bias strips and t-shirt ties. Making those bias strips takes forever, so I asked for some volunteers to iron. Four people agreed to help. They’d pick a batch off my porch, iron it, and return it.”
Other crafters started making “ear savers”—pieces of ribbon or crocheted tabs with buttons on the end that elastic ear loops connect to. “This takes the pressure off the ears,” Michele said. “My sister-in-law sent me a bunch of crocheted ear savers and she’d attached a little Bible verse on them. I sent them out with the masks.” Michele tags each of the masks she makes with a label that reads “This mask has been prayed over for your safety during the COVID-19 crisis. Made by Michele Goynes.”
Michele’s own parents, both healthcare workers in Louisiana, contracted the virus and are now recovered. “When Mom was really sick, I was sewing 10-12 hours a day and was so glad I had that to keep my mind occupied.”
But sewing masks is not just a way for Michele to stay busy during the Corona quarantine. Her immediate and practical response to this crisis shows her ministry heart for people. Proverbs 31 talks about the godly woman who “works with her hands in delight” and “stretches out her hands to the needy.” These verses certainly describe Michele. Before this mask-sewing frenzy began, she regularly shopped garage sales and bargain stores like Dirt Cheap for crazy deals on items she donated to women’s shelters and families in need. “I prayed a while back that if God would give me the ability to find these amazing bargains that I would always donate them or find a way to bless someone.”
Michele still sees God providing first-hand. “I’m not one to ask people for help or even to let others know I’m struggling, but I don’t want to rob people of a blessing, so I let them give. God just sent this straight to my door, and it’s cool to see Him provide.”
Healthcare workers who’ve received masks made by Michele’s sewing group post on social media pictures of themselves wearing the masks at work, showing their appreciation. One man was particularly happy because the mask accommodated his beard. Although there are many plans available online for sewing masks, these are the main patterns Michele uses:
She recommends Sewing For Lives (https://www.sewingforlives.com) as a resource for connecting people who make masks with those who need them.