Surfside Beach woman’s mask-making effort produces more than 5,000 masks from T-shirts

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SURFSIDE BEACH, SC – Julie Huynh figured she’d dust off her childhood sewing skills and make a few hand-sewn masks for her nail salon clients and friends to use amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But, thanks to Huynh’s drive to help, the simple project has ballooned into a massive effort with nearly a dozen volunteers, a routine schedule of delivery and a word-of-mouth donation campaign for materials. The result? A whopping 5,000 hand-sewn masks for not only her friends but also for Tidelands Health, assisted living centers and more. And she’s not done yet.

“I never sit,” Huynh said. “When I want to do something, I want to finish it. I don’t want to do it halfway. I want to do it, do it, do it. You get kind of addicted. I love to help. I love to donate things.”

Huynh made her first few masks for friends while her nail salon, L.A. Nails in Surfside Beach, was still open. But when the salon had to shut down because of COVID-19 business restrictions, the mask-making effort kicked into overdrive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people wear cloth masks in grocery stores, pharmacies and other public places where social distancing is difficult.

Huynh had answered the call from Tidelands Health to help sew new elastic bands on never-used N95 respirators and offered to donate hand-sewn masks, as well. While Tidelands Health uses the N95s for its workers caring for patients, team members in non-patient care areas benefit from having a hand-sewn mask. Huynh worked with nursing leaders to develop the design – honing the size, layers and more – and finally settled on a three-ply design with a pouch for a filter insert.

“After that, she was on her way,” said Cynthia Dominick, diagnostic operations director at Tidelands Health who has coordinated the community mask effort. “Pretty much, they have masterminded the entire process.”

Huynh recruited relatives and friends to help. Some are helping sew. Those who can’t sew are cutting the material from patterns.

The volunteers quickly went through their material and then turned to never-worn T-shirts to cut up and use. That material worked perfectly.

A couple of calls to local schools and a Facebook post later, T-shirt donations started rolling into Tidelands Health to be turned into masks. Horry County Schools, Coastal Carolina University, Accent Sewing, Ocean Lakes Family Campground and Surf Water Promotions gathered never-worn shirts and delivered boxes of them – eager to see shirts left over from previous events put to good use.

“I’m very thankful I have a lot of material,” Huynh said.

Thanks to family and friends who are willing volunteers, Huynh has organized the sewing effort and makes daily runs dropping off more T-shirts for volunteers to transform into masks and delivering boxes of colorful completed masks to Tidelands Health. The health system gave out more than 2,000 hand-sewn masks to team members for use in non-patient care areas and then started supplying assisted living centers, nursing homes and other community organizations with the masks.

“Health systems in other areas have had the costly expense of having to hire companies to sew masks for them,” Dominick said. “But Tidelands Health has been fortunate to have these eager volunteers who are so willing to help.”

Huynh has developed a daily routine for her extensive mask-making operation. She spends at least two hours delivering materials to volunteers and collecting their completed masks before dropping off boxes of masks to Tidelands Health. She then stays up into the wee hours of the morning sewing masks herself.

“Trust me, I don’t mind,” she said. “I never stop. It doesn’t feel like it’s three o’clock in the morning.”

How much longer will Huynh continue?

“We love it,” she said. “I’ll keep doing it until we are out of material.”

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