By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Hudson – Lots of leftover quilting fabric has been put to good use by educator Michele Fernandes while she’s virtual teaching her Natick preschoolers from her Hudson home. Within the first three weeks of the coronavirus pandemic stay-at-home advisory, she sewed over 600 cloth face masks and gave them away free of charge.
On the Facebook group “You know you are from Hudson if…,” Fernandes posted her offer to sew and give free cloth masks. She personally made home deliveries the first week.
“I felt like people were afraid to go out, and there were some elderly people who couldn’t get out,” she noted. “The response started out a little slow, but word spread within a week.”
Then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an updated statement that read in part: “CDC recommends wearing close face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies). CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”
CDC’s recommendation prompted significantly more mask requests from the public to Fernandes. Her sister and sister-in-law, both quilters, each provided cloth. A local company donated elastic after Fernandes shared on Facebook that her supply was depleted. She continued fulfilling requests and asked the mask recipients to pick them up outside her home front door.
“I couldn’t make the masks and deliver them, and do my teaching job – there just wasn’t enough time in the day,” she explained. “I feel busier now than when I was working at the school.”
Her virtual teaching is scheduled weekday mornings. The preschoolers’ parents can take part in remote “office hours.”
“The kids love it because they get to see each other,” Fernandes said of the preschoolers’ virtual classes. “You realize how much they depend on you for their routine every day, and how much they miss each other and depend on that social interaction – and, of course, the parents miss it, too. You don’t realize what you have until you don’t have it anymore.”
Among the Facebook group members who have requested her masks are self-identified as a caregiver, emergency medical technician, diabetic, firefighter, personal care attendant, project manager at a commercial cleaning company and stroke survivor.
In addition to many requests on the group page are appreciative comments for Fernandes. One group member remarked, “I don’t need one, but wanted to let you know how great a person we think you are.” Others praised her as “an angel” and “a true hero.”
At her front door, people have left cloth, thread, fresh flowers and gift cards. While her Facebook post clearly states that the masks are free, some recipients have left cash.
“I tell people that they don’t owe me anything – just pay it forward,” Fernandes stressed. “One woman donated to the food pantry in my name. I’d rather see people do that than pay me. I just want to give masks away and for people to be safe.”