For decades, the St. Anthony’s Hospital Auxiliary (SAHA) has provided financial support for hospital programming through volunteer hours and a variety of fundraisers. Like so many other nonprofits across the country, the COVID-19 crisis wiped out many of those scheduled fundraisers and the ability for volunteers to meet and interact as they did before. While raising funds might have temporarily slowed, the group’s commitment to service would not be, and it has embarked on a project that is perhaps one of its most widely felt over the course of its 70-plus-year history.
“At the beginning of this pandemic, I was called by Mary Ragsdale, COO of St. Anthony, to see if we would be willing to take on a project of making masks for St. Anthony,” explained SAHA President Tina Dacus. “‘Of course,’ I said yes on behalf of our group, and from that point on we have been running.”
After the call, Auxiliary members immediately stepped up and started sewing the protective masks. Tina, alongside member Jone Howard, have spent weeks purchasing fabrics and delivering sewing kits to those who want to help out anyway they can. Masks are all made from scratch and include the fabric covering, elastic for the ears, a twisty tie for the nose, and thread. The design is not the easiest, but that isn’t slowing down production. “We have to have three layers of fabric, a little piece of twisty tie sewn in at the top of the nose so that it could be pinched down on the nose for a better fit,” said Tina.
Word quickly got out and auxiliary volunteers were soon recruiting community members who are also graciously donating their time in making masks. By mid-April, 40,000 had gone out not just to St. Anthony’s but across the entire Franciscan Network of hospitals.
“It has been a monumental task with many wonderful volunteers who have been sewing their hearts out. We have recruited sewers, met in the hospital parking lot twice a week for mask ‘drop off,’ and answered many, many phone calls, emails, from not only our area but from all over the U.S., from people wanting our pattern,” said Tina.
This selfless act by so many has led to an amazing impact on a local and national scale. Frontline doctors, nurses and hospital staff are safer because of the masks being produced by these sewers.
While the mask creation is priority one for SAHA currently, there are other ongoing responsibilities it cannot ignore—including Anthony’s Closet. When patients are discharged, the hospital wants every patient leaving to be able to leave in dignity and with clean new clothing on. “One would be surprised how many times a patient leaves a hospital without the clothing they came in with,” said Tina.
In January alone, 36 patients required 80 articles of clothing from Anthony's Closet, and the SAHA pays for these clothes out of its budget. The clothing is brand new sweatpants, T-shirts and underwear. “We have also just added new shoes to our inventory because the hospital requested that of us,” said Tina.
With fundraisers canceled, donations to the SAHA are now more important than ever. Monetary donations help volunteers to not only keep Anthony’s Closest stocked but to continue to purchase materials for much-needed facial protection for frontline medical workers, who put themselves most at risk while treating patients and saving lives. Membership packets can be found at StAnthonysFoundation.org under the Auxiliary tab. Here you can also get in contact with board members to see what additional volunteer opportunities are available.
There are many ways to give. Financially you can make a one-time donation, pay tribute to a loved one, set up an annual gift or other planned giving. There are also multiple opportunities to volunteer your time in service to your community. Reach out to SAHA and they can help find an opportunity that best fits your abilities and availability.
What shouldn’t surprise most in this tight-knit community is that when the call went out for help, people stepped up to answer the call. Neighbors helping neighbors—and even those they might never meet or see—is the sign of a truly special community. For Tina, it’s a situation she could have never imagined, but the response is something she will take with her long after the virus has passed.
“It has been truly awe-inspiring for me to see. I am a hugger and have wanted to hug these wonderful women as these masks have been dropped off but, of course, we cannot hug during these times of social distancing.”
Life will eventually return to normal. Board meetings and fundraisers will resume, and the Auxiliary will continue its mission to provide financial support through fundraising and service to St. Anthony’s Hospital. Tina and all of the SAHA members wish to extend their deepest gratitude to everyone who has volunteered their time and says more than just a pat on the back is waiting for them, once they are able to embrace again. “We can't even throw a party to thank these wonderful people. But, we will. At some point we will.”